Broadway Review: 'Holiday Inn', You’re Easy to Dance With
- New York Critic
“Holiday Inn” always felt to me like the rightfully overlooked little brother of Berlin’s musical films. In fact, I wanted to open this review by saying that “Holiday Inn” is essentially “White Christmas” without the war. However, “Holiday Inn” was the first in Berlin’s musical trilogy, filmed in 1942. Next came “Blue Skies” in 1946 and by the time they got to “White Christmas” they must have figured that since “Holiday Inn” was a hit (No.8 in the list of top-grossing movies for 1942) they may as well just update it and hone in on Christmas. A smart move considering that Bing Crosby’s rendition of that little song, “White Christmas” is the best-selling single of all time.
There’s nothing “new” about this production of “Holiday Inn” with the exception of the book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge and honestly, I didn’t really want there to be. Paired with Berlin’s incomparable and timeless tunes the classic show has found a new life with the talented cast led by the extraordinary Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu. This production is presently classically, with all the Broadway musical conventions and it as light as the sweet songs and dance numbers. Frankly, given the state of the world and the troubles that smack you the minute you step out your front door, I was so grateful for two hours of blue skies and wistful nostalgia.
The irony is—I always pooh-pooh my mother who loves to escape into entertainment preferring lighter fare entertainment. I always accused her of burying her head in the sand to escape from the hardship of the world, but in the wake of our world today, I’m starting to understand why she does. Usually I turn to theatre to learn, to be challenged, and to broaden my worldview, but when I sat down in my seat the other night I was really, really grateful to turn my brain off, to drool over the spectacular costumes, the brilliantly choreographed dance numbers and bemoan the fact that as good as I sound in the shower, I’ll never be asked to replace Lora Lee Gayer. I was really grateful to laugh with a roomful of strangers, to holler at the end of two spectacular dance numbers and even teared up a bit at the line that seemed to me the crux of this entire show: “Every now and again it’s a good idea to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” Yes. Yes it is.
The standout performances belong to Pinkham, Lawrence and Bleu. Pinkham’s voice is enough to make even the most Crosby-crazed gal (read: me) swoon with his sweet and simple rendition of “White Christmas” and he has just the right combination of comedic timing, charisma and passion to play Jim. Lawrence was a perfect foil to the brilliant leading ladies with her Lucille Ball swagger and her comic chops. As the inciting factor in bringing the house down during the foot-tapping, astonishingly choreographed, “Shaking the Blues Away” she was consistently funny and a joy to watch. Bleu had a lot to live up to with the firecracker dance number that was originally added to the movie as a patriotic number following the attack on Pearl Harbor. This dance is a remarkable part of the film because it took two days and 38 takes to film. And in the film, Astaire did the entire number with a pocketful of real fireworks (the crew had to wear goggles while filming) and a lit cigarette in his mouth. Obviously this is not possible during live theatre, but I had high expectations for the dancing and choreography and Bleu nailed it.
The production plays through January 1st and if you’re a fan of Berlin, of old movie musicals or just need a couple of hours to shake the blues away, check out “Holiday Inn.” Because like they say in the show, “Every now and again it’s a good idea to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy.” Go. Be Happy.
Photo: Joan Marcus