Holiday Inn at the Roundabout
by Nancy Salz, October, 2016
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge
Music Supervision and Direction by Andy Einhorn
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Set Design by Anna Louizos
Costumes by Alejo Vietto
Lighting Design by Jeff Croiler
Sound Design by Keith Caggiano
With Bryce Pinkham, Corbin Bleu, Laura Lee Gayer, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora and Lee Wilkof
Holiday Inn, the new Irving Berlin Musical based on the 1942 movie of the same title, is a production of the Roundabout Theatre Company.
It feels more like a production of Turner Classic Movies.
Even with some wonderful new stars and spectacular new scenery and costumes, this WWII-era musical feels its age. You have to wonder why the esteemed Roundabout, that just brought us the glorious revival of She Loves Me, would mount an adaptation of a seventy-four year old movie – and one with a hackneyed, silly story at that – and not upgrade it to resonate with today’s audiences. Perhaps they thought that the Irving Berlin score was enough to justify their expense and effort. It isn’t.
The Irving Berlin songs, lovely as they may be – “Cheek to Cheek,” “Steppin’ Out with My Baby,” “ Blue Skies,” “ Easter Parade” – have all the characteristics of classic Berlin songs: They are melodic, simple, superficial, innocent and totally unsophisticated.
That’s what made them so popular in early and mid- 20th century America. Yet they are so of their time that they feel stuck in time. It’s hard to realistically relate to them.
Even with a new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, the plot is as simple, innocent and unsophisticated as Berlin’s songs. Jim Hardy, a song and dance man, is about to leave his up-and-coming cabaret trio with Lila Dixon and Ted Hanover. He wants a less hectic life. While Lila and Ted tour with increasing success as a duo, Jim buys a farm in Connecticut from the nearly bankrupt Linda Mason, who, it turns out, has a suppressed longing to be in show business. Linda leaves her friend, the spunky Louise, behind at the farm to help out the hapless Jim. (They sleep in separate bedrooms, of course!) He can’t make a go of it growing vegetables, so when his former showbiz pals pay him visitto his farm, he decides to put on a Christmas show to make some money. (Sound familiar, Judy and Mickey?) He also falls in love with Linda, who, amazingly enough, can sing a mean song. The Christmas show is such a hit that he renames his farm Holiday Inn and puts on a show for every major holiday, including Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July. Eventually Lila and Ted show up, messing up Ted’s love life and whisking Linda away to Hollywood. She soon misses the farm and Ted, and, of course, everyone lives happily ever after. Corny? Indeed.
That said, there are some terrific performances. Bryce Pinkham as Jim has a drop-dead gorgeous voice. Corbin Bleu (Ted) of High School Musical fame sings and dances with an energy rarely seen. Fine also are Megan Sikora as Lila and Lora Lee Gayer as Linda. Jennifer Foote replaced Megan Lawrence as Louise in the performance I saw. Foote was spirited and often very funny.
The scenery by Anna Louizas is also a star of the show. It changes frequently and seamlessly, and some of the sets are sensational. The costumes as well are beautiful – especially in the big production numbers of which there are many. Alejo Vietti is the costume designer who made the most of a generous budget.
Roundabout also didn’t stint on the chorus – twenty dancers strong tapping and singing their hearts out. The choreography, by Denis Jones, was high on energy but very low on originality. Dancing with firecrackers popping, jumping rope while tapping are inventive steps but felt borrowed from Susan Stroman, the creative choreographer for The Producers and Contact, among other shows.
Gordon Greenberg directed and stayed true, too true, to the milieu of the original movie.
Unless a show or movie has a classic theme – like South Pacific (love in the face of war and prejudice) or Fiddler on the Roof (religious persecution) – one has to bring something new to a revival or adaptation to make it relevant. Think of An American in Paris, adapted from a movie of the same era as Holiday Inn. That frothy story was changed for the 2015 Broadway show to bring it closer to the end of WWII and the horrors of the Paris occupation. Added was the concept of telling the story in dances by the brilliant choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Musicals can resonate today without being of today. Holiday Inn isn’t one of them.
There are many theatre-goers who will be quite entertained by Holiday Inn. And with low expectations it is entertaining. Certainly family friendly, too. But those of us who want something more – some originality, some depth – will feel very disappointed especially at 2016 ticket prices.