By Stanford Friedman
Walter Kerr, who became a theater critic in the 1950’s, once wrote that “the essential purpose of a musical-comic book was to be interrupted.” That is certainly the case with Holiday Inn, a 2014 musical set in 1946 and ‘47, and based on the classic 1942 film starring Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby. There is a storyline to follow, but it is clear from the start that it exists only to serve as a launching pad for the beautiful songs of Irving Berlin, and to pause when a big dance number is ready to stop the show.
The happy-go-lucky characters, attractive and talented one and all, inhabit a world where travel from Connecticut to LA happens in the wink of an eye, the calendar consists only of holidays, threats of financial ruin come from a cute kid on a scooter, and World War II apparently never occurred. This is escapist fare at full tilt, at a time when the real world is decidedly off its axis. Perhaps, in 2017, we will return to something resembling normalcy. Until then, a short stay at Holiday Inn provides a welcomed getaway.
Jim (Bryce Pinkham) and Ted (Corbin Bleu) are song and dance men and competitive pals. Ted is also whatever you would call the opposite of a wing man, with a habit of stealing away Jim’s women. In an important if barely believable plot twist, Jim decides to give up touring, buy a huge farm at a cheap price in Connecticut and send his gal Lila (Megan Sikora) off on the road with Ted. Once ensconced in his new life, Jim’s bubble begins to burst as he finds that his new home is a money pit. Fortunately, his only agitator is Charlie (Morgan Gao), a licorice-chewing messenger boy from the bank. With the help of a comedic device, um, I mean a repair woman, named Louise (Megan Lawrence), and a replacement love interest, um, I mean former owner of the farm, named Linda (Lora Lee Gayer), and a swell group of chorus folk, Jim converts his property into the ultimate off-off-off Broadway performance space. With show times scheduled only on holidays, because when else would you ever go to Connecticut, singing and dancing carry the day and true love doth flourish.
But never mind all that. Where else are you going to hear “Blue Skies,” “White Christmas,” “Easter Parade” and “Heat Wave” all in one night? Where else can “Shaking the Blues Away” transform into a fantastic chorus number featuring tap dancers with jump ropes? And where else can a former cast member of High School Musical tap his way through exploding fireworks and down into the front row of the audience as Mr. Bleu does here with the kind of effortlessness that Tony Danza can only dream about? His co-stars are equally entertaining. Mr. Pinkham is in fine voice and is especially touching in his rendition of “Be Careful, It’s my Heart.” (Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the only number in the show that actually advances the plotline, as Ted takes aim on Linda.) Ms. Sikora brings a sharp comic touch to Lila. The first few scenes have us thinking that this is her show, but she then disappears for most of the evening. And Ms. Gayer, in the role played by Marjorie Reynolds in the film, brings a classy movie star quality to the role with her elegant dancing and lovely voice. Who wouldn’t want to woo her?
Director Gordon Greenberg has the show running like a well-oiled machine. With the curtain up at 8:01 and an exactly 15-minute-long intermission, the seasons fly by, with scenic designer Anna Louizos’ set pieces whizzing past and a New Year’s Eve champagne cork blasting into the balcony. Before we know it, it’s time for a “White Christmas” reprise, and a happy finale. Then the lights come up and we remember we are inside Studio 54, where newlyweds Donald and Ivana Trump once boogied.
Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical – Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin; Book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge; Directed by Gordon Greenberg
WITH: Bryce Pinkham (Jim), Lora Lee Gayer (Linda), Megan Lawrence (Louise), Megan Sikora (Lila Dixon), Corbin Bleu (Ted) and Lee Wilkof (Danny), Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jenifer Foote, Morgan Gao, Matt Meigs, Shina Ann Morris, Catherine Ricafort, Drew Redington, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer, Parker Slaybaugh, Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Travis Ward-Osborne, Paige Williams, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley and Borris York
Choreographed by Denis Jones. Anna Louizos (Sets), Alejo Vietti (Costumes), Jeff Croiter (Lights), Keith Caggiano (Sound), Charles G. La Pointe (Wigs), Joe Dulude II (Make-up), Andy Einhorn (Music Director/Supervisor), Larry Blank (Orchestrations), Sam Davis (Vocal & Dance Arrangements), Bruce Pomahac (Additional Dance & Vocal Arrangements), John Miller (Music Coordinator), Michael J. Passaro (Production Stage manager). The Roundabout Theatre at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St., 212-719-1300, www.roundabouttheatre.org. Through January 1, 2017. Running time: 2 hours 15 min.