Friday, October 7, 2016

No Mere 'Let's Put On A Show' Show . . .

Jim leaves the bright lights of show business behind to settle down on his farmhouse in Connecticut… but life just isn’t the same without a bit of song and dance. Jim’s luck takes a spectacular turn when he meets Linda, a spirited schoolteacher with talent to spare. Together they turn the farmhouse into a fabulous inn with dazzling performances to celebrate each holiday, from Thanksgiving to the Fourth of July. But when Jim’s best friend Ted tries to lure Linda away to be his new dance partner in Hollywood, will Jim be able to salvage his latest chance at love?
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Let's face it, Broadway wouldn't be Broadway if it didn't periodically reclaim the best of its old self and repackage it as new.
In fact, this is often one of the things Broadway does best.
And this should surprise no one, especially when it comes to musicals since it's hard to top Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Comden and Green, Cy Coleman, Frank Loesser or Irving Berlin.
Did I say Irving Berlin?
Well, the champion pop tunesmith and grand master of musical comedy is back on Broadway with a brand "new" show even though he hasn't been around for 27 years.
Here's how it happened.
In May 1940, Irving Berlin signed an exclusive contract with Paramount Pictures to write songs for a film musical based on his idea of an inn that opened only on public holidays. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire were the stars of Holiday Inn with support from Marjorie Reynolds and Virginia Dale. Produced and directed by Mark Sandrich, filming took place between November 1941 and February 1942. Holiday Inn had its premiere at the New York Paramount Theatre August 4, 1942. It was a success in the U.S. and the U.K., the highest-grossing film musical to that time.
It was expected that Be Careful, It's My Heart would be the big song. While that song did very well, it was White Christmas that topped the charts in October 1942 and stayed there for eleven weeks. Another Berlin song, Happy Holiday, is featured over the opening credits and within the film storyline.
The success of the song White Christmas led to a similar film in 1954 which takes it's name from the song and also loosely involves the opening of an inn. The second film also starred Bing Crosby but different actors assumed the other major roles.
Now, nearly 75 years later thanks to the Roundabout Theatre Company, Holiday Inn has finally arrived on Broadway with a new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge,  directed by Gordon Greenberg and starring Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora, Corbin Bleu and Lee Wilkof.
And here's the deal -- not since the Gershwin's Girl Crazy was updated and snazzily reinvented as Crazy For You has Broadway witnessed a more stylish and delightful reincarnation. 
In addition to most of the songs from the original movie, more great Berlin songs have been lifted from other shows and added here, many with dazzling production numbers. These include Steppin Out With My Baby, Blue Skies, It's A Lovely Day Today, Shaking the Blues Away, Let's Take an Old-Fashioned Walk and Cheek to Cheek. 
And while you may think you know these songs all too well, you've never seen them come to life quite like this. When Megan Lawrence leads Pinkham and nearly the entire cast into Shakin the Blues Away it's a total show-stopper. And when Pinkham sits at a piano and gently croons White Christmas to Lora Lee Gayer you'll feel like you're hearing the song for the first time ever in context. It's a touched-with-pathos moment that will melt your heart proving that sometimes less is really more.
Which is to say that the wonderful thing about the Roundabout's Holiday Inn is that it never mocks or sneers at the tale's original concept. 
And while it's mostly played for laughs, it's all done lovingly. Oh sure, there are great, clever lines in this show and the new book crackles with a modern-day sensibility. It also moves along at a 21st century pace. But there's no hard-edged smugness, no gratuitous cynicism here. You've left all that when you've entered Roundabouts Studio 54 Theatre. Yet, while the show is affectionate, it never crosses the line into sentimentality.
Much of this is do to the deft hand of writer and director Greenberg and the talents of the fine cast led by Bryce Pinkham who is absolutely charming. In this show Pinkham gives us the closest thing you'll find nowadays to an old-fashioned matinee idol. Lean, graceful and self-effacing, Pinkham manages to dominate the proceedings while rarely calling undue attention to himself. It's quite a feat, but having seen Pinkham in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, we're not at all surprised. He's a total pro!
Kudos as well to Corbin Bleu who makes Denis Jones' choreography a joy to behold, to Megan Lawrence as the inimitable Louise, to Lee Wilkoff as the irascible Danny and to the shapely and fetching love interests Megan Sikora and Lora Lee Gayer. And while we're at it, let's not forget talented young Morgan Gao as Charlie Winslow in his Broadway debut and Will Burton (fresh on the heels of An American in Paris) who certainly gives his all to the ensemble. Yes, from top to bottom and all the way through this is a wonderful cast in a superbly mounted production!
BTW, are you wondering by now if this is the show that gave the Holiday Inn hotels their name? Well, yes -- the name Holiday Inn was given to the original hotel by its architect Eddie Bluestein as a joke, in reference to the 1942 film of the same name.
But this new Broadway production is no joke -- no mere moniker. It's the real deal. Hurry up and put it at the top of your list!

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