Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn

by Stu Brown

The world premiere of Holiday Inn, now playing through December 21st at the Goodspeed Opera House, has an abundance of memorable Irving Berlin tunes and some marvelous production numbers. Based on the 1942 movie that starred Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby, this is more an old-fashioned musical that, while entertaining for much of the show, left me somewhat underwhelmed. My main issues were 1) how the scenes blended into each other -- from dynamic, full-throttle dance numbers to more reserved and charming moments with just two or three of the central characters; and 2) my disappointment with the scenic design. Goodspeed, with its incredibly small performance space, has always done wonders with its witty and creative dance numbers (in full force here) and their scenic savvy. But for Holiday Inn the stage is rather sparse for much of the show and left me wanting more.

The storyline of the musical, written by Gordon Greenberg (who also directed) and Chad Hodge, follows the film closely, adding some characters, tweaking the plot, and smartly adding a number of classic Berlin tunes. The scenes populated by a large number of characters are fast-paced and fluid, especially those that include the ensemble of superb dancers. The more intimate portions of the show, while well-played and necessary for the flow of the production, forces the show to almost recalibrate, uneasily needing to shift gears.

What elevates Holiday Inn is the superlative number of songs from the Irving Berlin songbook. There is, of course, “White Christmas,” but the creators have wisely added such gems as “Blue Skies” (originally from the Rodgers and Hart musical, Betsy), “Heat Wave” (from his revue, As Thousands Cheer, which also introduced “Easter Parade”), “Stepping Out With My Baby” (from the film Easter Parade), and “Let’s Take An Old-Fashioned Walk” (from Berlin’s 1949 stage musical, Miss Liberty).These songs, along with those written explicitly for the movie, provide a cornucopia of listening pleasure. It also makes you wonder why today’s composers can’t produce scores full of the simple, yet melodic numbers that Irving Berlin and his contemporaries pumped out so consistently.

The talented cast delivers in both song and dance. Tally Sessions has an outstanding voice, but is a little understated in his role of Jim Hardy, the nightclub performer who retires to a Connecticut farm he renames Holiday Inn. Noah Racey, Jim’s former nightclub partner, is deliciously self-centered and one hell of a dancer. Patti Murin, who was so good as the head cheerleader in the Broadway musical, Lysistrata Jones, is more muted in her role of school teacher and former Broadway hoofer Linda Mason. Murin can light up the stage with her megawatt smile and dancing ability. Hayley Podschun, as Jim and Ted’s female partner, Lila Dixon, demonstrates she can keep up with the boys in the singing, dancing, and acting departments. 

The very funny supporting cast sometimes takes the spotlight away from the leading actors. Number one is Susan Mosher as the fast-talking, wise-cracking fix-it woman, Louise.  While on stage she always seems to inject some needed energy into a scene. Noah Marlowe as the young boy, Charlie Winslow, delivers his lines in such great dead-panned fashion. His simple “Don’t touch me” at one point during the show brought down the house. Lastly, Danny Rutigliano, was so apropos as the squat, rough around the edges, and gruff theatrical agent Danny Reed. He, as with Ms. Mosher, always seemed to provide a spark plug to the production when needed.

Director Gordon Greenberg helms the production that packs a lot of material into the musicals two and one-half hour running time. He’s more successful with the show’s pacing during the large group scenes. Meshing the more intimate with the more robust aspects of Holiday Inn will be one of the biggest challenges if the musical is looking for an afterlife when this run has been completed.

The choreography, helmed by Denis Jones, once again shows why some of the best dance routines on a musical theater stage are at Goodspeed. Jones comes up with some wonderful production numbers such as the high powered “Blue Skies” and “Shaking the Blues Away” numbers. They are inventive and full of energy or graceful and elegant, all maintaining the style of the time period. 

Alejo Vietti’s costumes are sumptuous creations that must have had the Goodspeed dress shop working overtime for the quality and quantity of outfits within the show.

Holiday Inn, extended through December 21st, a handsome musical theater treat that will please the many, but still needs some pruning and fixing to elevate it to must-see status.

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