Goodspeed's Holiday Inn -- Not Missing Astaire but Missing Crosby
By Karen Isaacs
A new holiday musical is making its world premier at Goodspeed Musicals and has already been extended twice, now running to Dec. 21.
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn is a stage adaptation of the hit 1942 movie musical that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire and introduced "White Christmas." to America. Please don't confuse this with the '50s film White Christmas that capitalized on the success of the song and also starred Crosby this time paired with Danny Kaye.
Book writers Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge have kept the basic outline of the movie. Jim Hardy (the Crosby role), Ted Hanover (Astaire) and Lila Dixon (played originally by Virginia Dale) are a nightclub act striving to make it in Hollywood. Or at least Ted and Lila are. Jim, who is supposedly engaged to Lila, wants to quit show business and become a farmer in Connecticut. He's purchased, sight unseen, a farm.
Complications immediately ensue. A big engagement at Chicago's Pump Room entice both Ted and Lila and their on stage engagement keeps getting extended while Jim is back in Connecticut struggling with a dilapidated house and a lack of farming skills. He also meet Linda Mason, the daughter of the original farm owner, a school teacher and a former performer. As he is running out of money, he hits on the idea of opening the farm on the holidays as an inn, using some of his former show business buddies as performers, since they are usually off on the holidays. (I'm not sure where that somewhat ludicrous idea came from).
Holiday Inn opens to a huge success on Christmas Day, but on New Year's Eve a drunk Ted shows up. His dreams of Hollywood are smashed because Lila has run off with a rich Texan.
Act II is about Linda and Jim's growing affection for each other and Ted's search for the "perfect" dance partner that he found on New Year's Eve. Guess who she is? Of course it is Linda and once again it seems as though Jim will be left in the lurch as another woman he loves succumbs to the glamour and fame of stardom.
But don't despair, it all ends well.
The show has been moved from wartime to just postwar, 1946 for no discernible reason.
What other changes from the movie? One number which has become controversial -- a number for Lincoln's Birthday that was performed in blackface -- has been removed, as well as one or two other songs. BUT lots of great Irving Berlin songs have been added. So while "Easter Parade" was in the original we now also have "Blue Skies," 'What'll I Do?" "You're Easy to Dance With," "Let's Take an Old Fashioned Walk," and "Be Careful, It's My Heart" among others.
Gordon Greenberg has done a fine job directing this piece. But the it is one specific piece of choreography by Denis Jones almost stops the show. It is a number with the women where they tap, sing AND jump rope. It is spectacular.
The scenic design by Anna Louizos, costumes by Alejo Vietti, lighting by Jeff Croiter and sound design by Jay Hilton are all terrific.
Three cast members stand out: Noah Racey does not imitate Fred Astaire but he dances fabulously and he captures the slightly "not nice guy" feel of Ted. You can sense both his ambition and his uncertainties. Patti Murin has a wonderful voice as Linda and Susan Mosher plays the comic character, Louise the handyman who tries to get Jim and Linda together. Both are wonderful.
Tally Sessions as Jim Hardy seems so hang dog that it is hard to be sympathetic to him. It was a role designed for Crosby's relaxed confidence but Sessions just doesn't capture it. His voice is great and he puts over the songs but I, for one, never was rooting for him.
Holiday Inn will continue to be tweeked. This is show that Universal Studios wants to succeed. They have a good start but work needs to be done.
Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn is at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam through Dec. 21. For tickets and information call 860-873-8668 or on-line at www.goodspeed.org.
This review appeared at 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com and on WNHU-88.7 fm.