Remember the Movie "Holiday Inn"? Now It's a Play.Culture Watch
tags: theater review, Holiday Inn
Everybody has seen the movie Holiday Inn, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, on television at one time or another. It is, like White Christmas, It’s Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, a staple of the holiday season. Who can forget all of that sensational dancing by Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby singing White Christmas?
Now Holiday Inn (now the Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical) is a play. It opened in New York last week at Studio 54, W. 54 Street, and it is a warm chestnut for the holidays, a tuneful and cheerful Christmas/New Year’s show, with Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July thrown in, too. Get the egg nog and put the presents under the tree.
When the play, with book by Chad Hodge and Gordon Greenberg and music by Irving Berlin, opens just prior to Christmas, 1945, we find show biz singer Jim Hardy telling his partners Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon, with whom he is smitten, that he is quitting their act and moving to Connecticut to buy a farm and start life anew. He leaves, but Lila wants to continue her career and become a star. So she and Ted hit the road and in Connecticut Jim is bored pretty quickly. Then, to keep his hand in show biz, Jim he decides to turn the farm into resort/night club that is only open on various holidays.
Here, the play varies from the movie. In the movie, character Linda Mason meets Jim’s agent, who sends her to Connecticut to be in Jim’s show. In the play, Linda is the former owner of the farm purchased by Jim. She wanders back to her former home to see how things are going and meets him and they fall in love. The rest of the stage plot is pretty much the same as the film’s, although, thankfully, the play cuts out the disgusting blackface minstrel musical number (years ago, television trimmed it out of the movie, too).
The story has its tragedies. Jim might lose the farm due to non-payment of back taxes and the love affair between Linda and he is constantly on again and off again. Former flame Lila’s marriage to a Texas millionaire fizzles and she returns broken-hearted. Ted can’t find a new dance partner. There are triumphs, too, such as when the romances work and Hollywood beckons all three and the resort becomes a success.
Most of all, there is the song White Christmas, sung for the very first time in a film by Crosby in the movie Holiday Inn and replicated in the play.
The musical has the songs from the Irving Berlin movie, but other Berlin tunes are added. Among the best songs in the show, all done with dazzling choreography, are “Steppin’ Out,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade,” “Blue Skies,” “You’re Easy to Dance With” and “Heat Wave.”
There are wonderful touches of history for the audience. The best is a gorgeous old grainy, black and white introduction to a movie concocted in the story, with photos of the stars. You really feel like you are watching an old 1940s film. There are big bottles of champagne on New Year’s Eve with the year, 1947, printed on them. Messages are delivered by hand, not by texting.
The play has one big problem because it is too long, two hours and fifteen minutes (movie time: one hour and forty minutes). The director, Gordon Greenberg, spends far too much time setting up the plot of the story (we all know the plot). You have to wade through several unneeded songs and long stretches of dialogue that have little to do with the farm or the Holiday inn idea. It is not until about twenty minutes that the plot gets on track, the characters fall into place and the musical takes off.
When it does take off, it is a wonderful show. Director Greenberg has done a fine job of building a strong romantic story with the love quartet of Ted, Lila, Jim and Linda. Ted is the ambitious dancing rascal played by Corbin Blue who has his work cut out for him trying to be Fred Astaire (actually, he is pretty good). Jim is a soft and lovable guy played well by Bryce Pinkham. Lila, tough as nails but with a heart of gold, is portrayed by Megan Sikora. The best character in the play is soft hearted, cherubic and romantic Linda Mason, played with panache by Lora Lee Gayer. They are joined on stage by a human dynamo, Louise, played deftly by Jennifer Foote (in the performance I saw). She is played by Megan Lawrence in most performances. They take the story and turn it in a rumbling series of love stories, all set amid a nice farmhouse set and just fabulous songs and dance numbers mercurially choreographed by Denis Jones.
Holiday Inn is simplistic, schmaltzy, sappy, drenched in romance with broken and mended hearts and even has a cute little kid in it. What’s wrong with all that?
And, of course, right in the middle of this 1947 story you get to hear White Christmas.
So go back in time to post-war Connecticut, book your rooms early and get yourself to Holiday Inn for a holiday of fun.
PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company. Sets: Anna Louizos, Costumes: Alejo Vietti , Lighting: Jeff Croiter, Sound: Keith Caggiano, Choreography: Denis Jones. The play is directed by Gordon Greenberg. It has an open ended run.
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