Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer, and Bryce Pinkham in Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge’s “new” Irving Berlin musical “White Christmas.” | JOAN MARCUS
BY DAVID KENNERLEY | The concept is so smart and obvious, it’s a wonder nobody has executed it until now. Find an old Hollywood movie bursting with Irving Berlin tunes, freshen up the book, pack in even more Irving Berlin tunes, rework the choreography, cast a spirited ensemble full of triple-threats, and stage it as a fizzy jukebox musical on Broadway.
The result is “Holiday Inn,” inspired by the popular 1942 film starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.
This delightful “new” musical feels comfortably familiar, boasting nearly two dozen beloved tunes from the Irving Berlin catalogue such as “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Easter Parade,” and the treasured “White Christmas” (Bing Crosby’s 1947 version is still the best-selling holiday single of all time in the US).
“New” Irving Berlin tuner feels comfy like those bunny slippers Grandma gave you for Christmas
As with any jukebox musical, the challenge is to craft a logical, captivating book that isn’t overwhelmed by the classic songs. For the most part, Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Chad Hodge succeed. They even manage to generate some authentically touching moments centering on finding and losing love, the fleeting nature of fame, and grabbing happiness before it’s too late.
The story retains its 1940s screwball roots, centering on Jim, an entertainer who escapes the New York rat race to run a farm in Connecticut and marry his dance partner, Lila (Megan Sikora, in full-on vamp mode). But his dream unravels when she runs off with Ted, a fellow performer who’s also his best friend, and he discovers that running a farm takes a helluva lot more sweat and cash than he realized.
Enter Linda, a fresh-faced local teacher, and Louise (Megan Lawrence), a capable, snappy caretaker, both ready and willing to help out. To raise funds, Jim transforms the farm into Holiday Inn, which stages shows on the holidays when his theater pals have time off from their regular gigs. It’s not long before Linda steals Jim’s heart. But will Ted return and steal Linda off to Hollywood before the romance takes hold?
Throughout the seasons, the inn serves up fabulous holiday-themed musical extravaganzas (choreographed with flair by Denis Jones) animated with artful, eye-popping costumes by Alejo Vietti. Nearly every major holiday is represented (they wisely cut the movie’s dated Lincoln’s Birthday number depicting a blackface minstrel show).
There’s a lot of talent on display here. Bryce Pinkham, Tony-nominated for “Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder,” lends a winsome touch to the role of Jim, even during Jim’s most stubborn moments. Lora Lee Gayer brings an earnest insecurity to the role of Linda, as she discovers the life she’s been longing for is right under her nose. As the fame-hungry Ted, Corbin Bleu (of “High School Musical” fame) tempers selfishness with an easy charm, putting his devilish grin to good use.
The singing and dancing at this “Holiday Inn” is everything you’d expect from an old-fashioned, splashy musical on the Great White Way. The showstopper features the entire company frenetically decking the halls for Christmas while tap dancing, jumping rope garlands, and crooning “Shaking the Blues Away.”
Even for curmudgeons who find this reboot too musty and corny, surely, at least for a few minutes, that rafter-rattling number succeeds in doing just that.
HOLIDAY INN | Roundabout Theatre Company | Studio 54 Theatre, 254 W. 54th St. | Through Jan. 1: Tue.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat.-Sun. at 2 p.m.; $47-$152 at roundabouttheatre.org | Two hrs., 15 mins., with intermission