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A CurtainUp Review
Holiday Inn, the New Irving Berlin Musical
Though it's billed as "The New Irving Berlin Musical" don't expect the creaky plot of the 1942 movie that starred that era's favorite crooner and tap dancer Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire to be completely gone. Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodges have changed the dynamics of Jim and Fred's song and dance partnership, making them less intensely hostile but with different life goals. The female characters too are more likeable.
While on a somewhat firmer narrative foundation the book is still based on the highly unlikely premise that Jim, having left show biz for more of real life, buys a farm which unsurprisingly turns out to be lemon — that is, until he turns that lemon into a delightful gold mine. That means the farm becomes a hostelry that's only open for holidays when it also offers fabulous holiday themed shows.
Though Greenberg (who also directs) and Hodges' still rely on a feather-weight plot and feel-good nostalgia, it doesn't really matter. You see, the really new thing about their production is how smoothly they've mixed songs from the Irving Berlin canon in with those from the original movie. That means not just the super hits, "White Christmas" and "Easter Parade", but additional favorites as well as some lesser known songs from earlier and later shows.
With Thanksgiving just around the corner and Christmas right on its heels, even fans of more edgy contemporary musicals, may want a respite from provocatively weighty concepts to take in this trip back to sheer old-fashioned good-time entertainment — especially given Denis Jones's very lively choreography and the excellent designers and performers. As for people old enough to have seen and loved the original and those who know it from watching annual Christmas re-runs . . . most won't miss Crosby and Astaire —not with Bryce Pinkham (most recently the charming murderer in Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder ) as Jim and the nimble-footed Corbin Bleu (you probably know him from his days with the High School Musical franchise) tapping up a storm as Fred.
Besides the holiday hits that even the kids in the audience will recognize from their being played to the point of ad nauseam each year, the twenty tunes include plenty of other popular hummers like "Blue Sky,", "Heat Wave", "Let's Take An Old-Fashioned Walk" and "Cheek to Cheek." All are splendidly orchestrated by Larry Blank and almost all are presented as part of full production numbers. Fitting them all in leaves barely enough dialogue to connect each song and dance to the next.
The production numbers showcase Aleji Vietti's snazzy costumes as well as Mr. Jones's choreography. Jones does particularly notable work with the first act's jump rope routines in "Shakin'The Blues Away." The second act's lesser known but crackling "Fire Crackers/"Song of Freedom" is also show stopper.
One of the new book's major character rewrites is for the role of Linda. She's now a scrappy school teacher and former owner of the farm house Jim bought. There's enough of a back story about early show business ambitions to make her becoming the star of the the Inn's holiday shows believable. Lora Lee Gayer brings looks, charm and a gorgeous voice to the part. Her talent also brings Corbin's Fred back into the picture. I wouldn't have minded seeing more of him.
Not to be overlooked for bravos are the performers who manage to rise above old style musical stereotypes. Megan Lawrence fits the bill to perfection as Louise, the farm's amusing handyman-housekeeper. Lee Wilkof lands a number of wry zingers as Danny, the pushy theatrical agent; for example, his greeting Jim's announcement about marrying Lila with "Why would you get married?! You seem so happy." Megan Sikora as Lila embodies the brassy blonde who loves show business and fame more than Jim (though Greenberg and Hodge's script does provide a dual happy ending by teaming her up romantically with the equally show-biz dedicated Ted). Oh, and let's not forget the wonderfully agile chorus or young Morgan Gao making his debut as a delightful youngster.
Of course, some references, like one about comedian Red Skelton, will go over the head of kids, but this is nevertheless a bring the kids friendly show — a way for the young and young in heart to shake the blues away.
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Holiday Inn-The New Irving Berlin Musical
Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin, new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge inspired by the 1942 Academy Award-winning film of the same name.
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Cast:Bryce Pinkham (Jim), Lora Lee Gayer (Linda), Megan Lawrence (Louise), Megan Sikora (Lila Dixon), Corbin Bleu (Ted), Lee Wilkof (Danny), Charlie Winslow (Morgan Gao).
Ensemble: Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jenifer Foote, Shina Ann Morris, Catherine Ricafort, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer,Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Paige Williams, Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Matt Meigs, Drew Redington, Parker Slaybaugh,Travis Ward-Osborne, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley, Borris York
Sets: Anna Louizos
Costumes: Alejo Vietti
Lights: Jeff Croiter
Sound: Keith Caggiano
Make-up: Joe Dulude II
Hair and Wig Design: Chuck LaPointe
Music Director/ Supervisor: Andy Einhorn
Orchestrations: Larry Blank
Vocal & Dance Arrangements: Sam Davis
Additional Dance & Vocal Arrangements: Bruce Pomahac
Music Coordinator: John Miller Running Time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, 1 intermission
Studio 54 254 West 54th Street
From 9/01/16/opening 10/06/16;closing 1/15/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 10/01/16 preview press matinee
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