We gave it a B
There’s virtually nothing new about Holiday Inn, the “new” (as it’s billed) Irving Berlin musical that just opened at Studio 54 on Broadway. You’ve heard the Tin Pan Alley tunes, including “White Christmas” and “Easter Parade,” dozens of times — perhaps in the 1942 Berlin-scored Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire silver-screen source, Holiday Inn. Or in his 1948 movie Easter Parade. Or in 1954’s White Christmas. (Berlin was recycling even before it was trendy!) The hey-kids-let’s-put-on-a-show trope is as old as movie musicals themselves. The characters — who include song-and-dance journeymen Jim and Ted (Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu, taking on the Crosby and Astaire roles, respectively), fame-hungry bleached blonde Lila (Megan Sikora), and fame-shy mousy brunette Linda (Lora Lee Gayer) — are so stock they’re practically cardboard. And the “plot” — ex-showbiz star opens a Connecticut country inn — is pretty much just a clothesline on which to hang Berlin’s songs.
Still, you’d have to be a total Grinch not to melt even a little during Berlin’s comforting-as-cocoa Christmas ballad. And who couldn’t succumb to the charms of the tap-happy “Shaking the Blues Away,” a massive tree-trimming production number led by that comic dynamo Megan Lawrence as a Rosie the Riveter-meets-Lucille Ball scene stealer?
But wait, “Shaking the Blues Away” wasn’t in the movie! And it’s not a Christmas song! (That was an actual complaint overheard at intermission.) Yes, movie fans, the creators — director-librettist Gordon Greenberg and co-librettist Chad Hodge (TNT’s Good Behavior) — have taken liberties. They’ve added some new tunes, including, most notably, the little-known gem “Nothing More to Say.” They’ve replaced and expanded characters: the stereotypical black housekeeper, Mamie (played on screen by Louise Beavers) here becomes Lawrence’s Louise, a trouser-wearing farmhand and Jill of all trades. Linda is no longer a wannabe actress/flower-shop salesgirl; now she’s a schoolteacher who just happens to sing like a dream and do a mean foxtrot. Oh, and they’ve cut the minstrel show number “Abraham” — the one Crosby famously performed in blackface. (You’ll hear no complaints about that.)
One thing that didn’t change: Ted’s famous firecracker solo. And thank goodness! It’s nothing more than a chance to showcase some majorly fancy footwork courtesy of choreographer Denis Jones, but High School Musical alum Bleu, a charmer with a toothpaste commercial-ready smile, makes the most of every explosive step.
Saddled with the less flashy role, Pinkham, a standout in 2013’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, tends to blend into the background. In his defense, it’s hard to compete with a stuffed bunny Easter bonnet. (Alejo Vietti created the witty costumes — especially of note are the red skirts that lace up like a baseball in “Song of Freedom” and horn of plenty headpieces in “Plenty to Be Thankful For.”)
For some reason, the book doesn’t have Jim’s whole showbiz-themed-inn idea taking root until right before intermission. But once the tap dancers break out the jump ropes — well, that’s all it takes to get the audience immediately into the Holiday spirit. B
(Tickets: RoundaboutTheatre.org or 212-719-1300)