Review: ‘Holiday Inn’ is a tuneful, toe-tapping confection

NEW YORK — Tap dance into yesteryear with the romantic sensibility of Irving Berlin in the lively new show “Holiday Inn — The New Irving Berlin Musical.”

It’s a stage adaptation of “Holiday Inn,” stringing together more than 20 ballads and holiday-themed Berlin songs from the beloved 1942 movie that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. This pleasing update includes memorable songs from that film plus a few other stylish Berlin tunes.

The Roundabout Theatre Company production that opened on Broadway on Thursday night at Studio 54 features a new book co-written by Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Chad Hodge, with music and lyrics by Berlin and exuberant choreography by Denis Jones.

Favorite tunes included in this toe-tapping stage version include “Blue Skies,” ”Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” ”Shaking the Blues Away,” ”Easter Parade,” ”Happy Holiday” and “Heatwave.” And of course, that beloved ballad “White Christmas.”

Several songs are abbreviated in medleys, but the nostalgia factor is amped up with plenty of full, splashy dazzling dance numbers and lavish costumes. Jones has filled the cavernous stage with exuberant choreography, and the nimble, hardworking ensemble is airborne one minute, then dreamily waltzing the next.

Romantic leads Bryce Pinkham and Lora Lee Gayer provide likable if subdued performances, in contrast to their hammy pals. Successful singer-songwriter Jim (Pinkham) quits showbiz and moves to a farm in Connecticut, losing his fiancee to his former best friend in the process. Pinkham, who dynamically lit up the stage with his Tony Award-nominated performance in “Gentleman’s Guide To Love and Murder,” makes Jim a self-effacing mope who comes alive when singing and dancing.

Gayer gives a restrained, ladylike portrayal of Laura Mason, a local teacher whose family once owned Jim’s farm. Not surprisingly, Laura eventually reveals some past showbiz experience. Pinkham and Gayer sing beautifully, solo and together, especially their “White Christmas,” but their slowly budding romance doesn’t always create sparkling scenes.

In contrast, Megan Sikora blazes with comical ambition as self-centered chanteuse Lila, Jim’s runaway girlfriend. And Corbin Bleu is a tap dancing wonder as Jim’s flashy ex-partner, Ted. Bleu and Sikora are a perfect match in their over-the-top pairings, like their stylish, red-hot “Heat Wave.”

Megan Lawrence enlivens every scene she bursts into as wisecracking Louise Badger, the irrepressible “fix-it man” who comes with the farm. Louise gamely takes charge of Jim, including helpful meddling in his love life that was typical of screwball comedies. Another standout number features Lawrence in a hoedown on steroids, “Shaking the Blues Away,” where she uses buckets for shoes while lightning-fast tap dancers jump rope in tandem.

The orchestra, split on two balconies atop either side of the stage, emits a bright and brassy sound led by Andy Einhorn. This tuneful confection of standards from one of America’s greatest songwriters definitely harkens back to the golden age of musicals.

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press
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