Swell production of Holiday Inn at Goodspeed

By Amy J. Barry

It’s pretty hard to compete with mega stars Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in a remake of Holiday Inn. But Goodspeed Opera House has done a pretty darn good job with this funny, fast-paced, tightly choreographed stage adaptation of the 1942 musical film famous for a host of Irving Berlin holiday-themed hits from “White Christmas” to “Easter Parade.”

The story is a simple one. Tired of show business, nice guy Jim Harley (Tally Sessions) buys a dilapidated farmhouse in Connecticut with plans to fix it up and farm the land with fiance Lila Dixon (Hayley Podschun) at his side. But the opportunistic Lila has her sights set on stardom and goes off on a six-week engagement at Chicago’s Pump Room with Jim’s best friend and ladies man Ted Hanover (Noah Racey), promising to return at the end of the summer.

Meanwhile, the engagement keeps getting extended and single schoolteacher and ex-performer Linda Mason (Patti Murin), whose family had lived in the farmhouse for three generations, appears on the scene. A romance, no surprise there, begins to slowly develop between the lovely Linda and the heartbroken Jim.

Stereotypically, Podschun plays the stereotypical ditzy blonde with pizzazz and Murin the more dimensional grounded brunette with grace and style. Racey isn’t Astaire, but his dancing is topnotch and he plays his cagey character with finesse. Sessions’s singing and dancing are fine but his character could use an energy boost.

When Jim realizes he can’t keep up with the bills on the property, he turns it into a seasonal show venue and hotel that’s only open on holidays, hence the musical’s title Holiday Inn. Once again, Ted tries to steal his best friend’s gal, this time Linda, to perform with him after Lila runs off with a Texas millionaire, but Louise (Susan Mosher), the handywoman Jim hired to help him fix-up the house, intervenes and helps save the day.

The new book by Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Chad Hodge retains the more charming parts of the film and deletes the downright offensive parts like the musical number “Abraham,” for Lincoln’s Birthday, depicting a black face minstrel show that broadcasters, under advertiser pressure, began cutting from the film back in the 1980s. It also replaces the subservient role of the black maid Mamie with the strong-willed Louise, a modern day, take charge woman, who’s part yenta, part tomboy. Mosher, a Carol Burnett clone, steals the show; if the audience’s enthusiastic response to her the night we attended is any indication.

Greenberg, along with musical director Michael O’Flaherty, has doubled the number of Berlin songs in the movie for the stage production and they blend in nicely with the original score, including the clever, swinging “You Can’t Brush Me off” and the romantic “What’ll I Do?” and “Be Careful, It’s My Heart.”

Denis Jones’s tap dancin’ choreography is spot on, shown off early on in the number “Blue Skies” that’s sung with lovely harmonies by Jim and the ensemble, while they form into a human train to make the trip from the city to Connecticut -- and later when the ensemble joyfully jumps rope in “Shakin’ the Blues Away.”

The sets by Anna Louizos easily transition between the homey farmhouse and the glitzy nightclubs and backstages, and are enhanced by Jeff Croiter’s dramatic lighting. The spiffy costumes by Alejo Vietti are up to Goodspeed’s usual high standards.

Although are no spectacular standout performances, all comes together in a lively, entertaining and festive ending to the Goodspeed’s 2014 season.

Performances of Holiday Inn have been extended through Dec. 21 at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam. For tickets, call 860-873-8668 or online at www.goodspeed.org.

This review appears in Shore Publishing community weeklies, and online at zip06.com and theday.com.

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