By Meredith Ganzmann (@MGanzman)
America’s biggest drama is its current political theatre, and it’s increasingly become an unbearable show to watch. There’s no real intermission either. You have to wait it out – thirty something days to go. But watching the new musical Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical, from Roundabout Theatre Company, you can at least try to remember or even just imagine a simpler time.
Based on the 1942 movie musical starring Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale, with music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical tells the story of performer Jim, who leaves show business and moves to a farmhouse in Connecticut. When he meets a local schoolteacher, Linda, also a former performer, they team up to turn the farmhouse into an inn complete with holiday themed shows. The film also inspired the hotel chain by the same name.
As the fall weather begins to chill, the musical’s use of Berlin’s songs including “Cheek to Cheek,” “Easter Parade,” and arguably most famous, “White Christmas,” brings warmth and comfort. In 1943, Berlin won an Academy Award won for Best Original Song for “White Christmas.” As in in the movie, Jim plays this new song he’s written next to a crackling fire with Linda by his side. The song could use some work, Jim says. But hearing it you can’t help but think soon it will be the holidays, this political race will be over and maybe our days will indeed be “merry and bright.”
That said, unfortunately, much of the production is fairly dim. This is largely due to the book and direction, both by Gordon Greenberg and co-written by Chad Hodge. There are little to no stakes for the characters and the staging, though meant to be nostalgic, lacks any nuance.
Though the book may be boring, the cast, led by Tony Award-nominee Bryce Pinkham (Jim Hardy) and “High School Musical” star Corbin Bleu (Ted Hanover), is not. Pinkham is truly a renaissance man on-stage, last seen as Peter Patrone in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Heidi Chronicles. Bleu proves himself to be quite a skilled tap dancer, especially during the July 4th themed “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers.” With choreography by Denis Jones, the number pays homage to the film’s firecracker routine, performed by Fred Astaire and choreographed by Danny Dare. Lora Lee Gaynor (Linda Mason) is also a standout with old Hollywood starlet appeal.
Jim retires from performing in nightclubs because it no longer makes him happy, and he hopes for a simpler life away from the bright lights and suitcase-based-living will. But Ted advises him that in our pursuit of happiness, it’s important to take time to stop and just be happy. And that’s what this new musical is. In a Broadway climate that features Hamilton and School of Rock, Holiday Inn is not an inspiring history lesson or theatrical rock and roll concert. And that’s okay. There’s room enough—at the beginning of this new Broadway season—for some simple and brief joy.
Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical is playing at Studio 54.