Pack a load of Irving Berlin songs into a show, with a pleasing singing and dancing cast and chorus, and how can you go wrong? This Roundabout Theatre Company’s presentation, in association with Universal Stage Productions, a reworking of the film “Holiday Inn,” is an enjoyable stage treat, with winsome leads and a talented troupe that can generate audience applause with exhilarating dance numbers.
Sure, the story, with a book by director Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge and set in the 1940s, is corny, as was the story in the film and as stories were in a host of entertaining past musicals, but the performers in this show can make characters reasonably believable even in the most far-fetched situations.
Take Bryce Pinkham as Jim Hardy, a song and dance man who partners with ambitious Lila Dixon, played with brassy show biz flair by Megan Sikora. Pinkham is warmly engaging as he carries a good part of the production—you may remember him for his outstanding work in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” Jim proposes to Lila, but the lure of going off with Jim’s best friend, dancer Ted Hanover, to appear in Chicago’s famous Pump Room, has more appeal than Jim’s vision of settling down in the Connecticut farm that he has bought. (Cue jokes about Connecticut.) Corbin Bleu, who plays Ted, is a sensational dancer with a sturdy personality.
Jim is dejected but throws himself into his new life. The problem is that the farm house is a shambles and the bills have piled up to threaten loss of the property. There to help is acerbically perky caretaker Louise, who cracks wise and wants to fix Jim up with Linda Mason, who used to own the place. On the night I saw the show the role of Louise, usually played By Megan Lawrence, was performed by Jenifer Foote. I have no basis for comparison, but Foote was a thorough delight as she infused the musical with her likability and talent for comedy, as well as a bit of conspiracy.
As for Linda, who teaches school, Lora Lee Gayer, who has a thrilling voice, makes her believable and enjoyable to watch as love blooms slowly between her and Jim. And wouldn’t you know, Linda once thought of becoming a performer. The plot thickens when Ted shows up and wants to take her to Hollywood for a movie role, a deal engineered by Lee Wilkof as old-fashioned, ever-ambitious agent Danny. Thus Ted is trying to steal yet another gal from Jim. Meanwhile, Lila has gone off with a rich Texan. Of course, she’ll be back.
With economically tough pressures, a decision is made to turn the huge farmhouse into Holiday Inn, and Louise arranges for Jim’s chorus pals to turn up. The idea for putting on shows to pay the bills is launched. The plot chestnut provides the set-up for the musical to span several seasons and pile on more Berlin numbers in addition to those that juiced up the show in the beginning. Naturally, the classic “White Christmas,” here written by Jim, is introduced and sentimentally worked into the relationship between him and Linda and later repeated.
Choreographer Denis Jones provides some sprightly dance routines, especially one rope-jumping tap number executed with great skill. Alejo’s Vietti’s costumes are attractive, and except when dancers cavort in hokey get-ups to look like turkeys in a Thanksgiving motif. Greenberg’s direction has plenty of spirit, with the numbers cleverly woven into the story and projecting the plot forward with emphasis on keeping the entertainment gears moving.
The real star of the musical, with no disrespect meant to the fine cast, is Irivng Berlin, with his enduring music and lyrics. Berlin left us in 1989, but his vast output of songs live on, whether exemplified by those from the film Holiday Inn, or other numbers added to spice this production.
Get a load of just some of Berlin’s contribution here: “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Blue Skies,” “Heat Wave,” “It’s a Lovely Day,” “Plenty to Be Thankful For,” “Nothing More to Say,” “Shaking the Blues Away, “Let’s Take an Old Fashioned Walk,” “Be Careful, It’s My Heart,” “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade”—and more. In the hands of worthy performers and with an excellent orchestra conducted by Andy Einhorn, “Holiday Inn” is welcome fun. At Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed October 15, 2016.