The Irving Berlin Jukebox Musical ‘Holiday Inn’ is as Sweet as a Sugar Plum

Holiday Inn.

Holiday Inn. Joan Marcus

To various and sundry Grinches who always steal Christmas, this is rushing the season, but the holidays have already arrived, tinsel and peppermint sticks and all the trimmings, on Broadway. Holiday Inn is a nice, entertaining, totally derivative but heartfelt musical eggnog without much originality but plenty of energy and a Christmas stocking full of Irving Berlin tunes you’ll be humming all year long. This is the one about the singing ex-GI who retires from show business, buys a Connecticut farm and stages a festive extravaganza every calendar holiday to make ends meet, with the aid of his former dancing partner and a pretty local girl who dresses up the scenery. Despite the unusual misfortune of being filmed in black and white, the 1942 movie, with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, Holiday Inn was such a colossal hit that it inspired a string of motels with the same name as well as a 1954 copycat called White Christmas, with a similar plot, this time about a song-and-dance duo (Crosby again, with Danny Kaye) who, after the war, rescue their old WWII commanding officer’s failing winter resort in Vermont from bankruptcy with the aid of more Irving Berlin songs and a pair of comely, camera-ready sisters (Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen as the showgirls), ravishing in Technicolor. The plots of the two movies were thin enough to write on the head of a bobby pin, but audiences didn’t care as long as they could hear Bing sing “White Christmas” in both.

Broadway has already hung White Christmas by the chimney with care. It’s only natural that now it’s Holiday Inn’s turn. Like most stage adaptations of hit movies, most of the score has been scrapped and replaced by tunes from other Berlin shows. Thus we get “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” from Miss Liberty, “Cheek to Cheek” from Top Hat and “Heat Wave” from Blue Skies. The alleged “book,” by Gordon Greenberg (who also directed) and Chad Hodge, skillfully uses the story as a loose framework to glue the songs and production numbers together so effortlessly that you hardly know where dialogue ends and singing begins. It comes off most of the time, but an over-the-top “Shaking the Blues Away” as a Christmas number? Really, fellows, are you kidding? Even Ann Miller couldn’t pull that one off. For political correctness, Bing Crosby’s Fourth of July number, singing “Abraham” in blackface, is gone, and Denis Jones’ rousing choreography is mostly borrowed from things Michael Kidd thought of years ago. But director Greenberg does give a chance to dress Berlin in a rainbow of themes and bright colors—pink and red hearts, lace and cherubs for Valentine’s Day, bunnies wearing bonnets of flowers and dyed eggs for Easter, and firecrackers popping loudly on a stage draped in red, white and blue flags for Independence Day. Drenched in nostalgia, the finale even moves to Universal studios in Hollywood where the movie off Holiday Inn is being shot, replete with the revolving Universal logo circling the solar system. I hate to break the news, but the movie was made by Paramount, not Universal.

Bryce Pinkham, who plays the singing half of the song-and-dance team, has a big, powerful voice and he can really sing out Louise. If there was still such a thing as The Hit Parade, his “White Christmas” would probably sell as many copies as Crosby’s (82 million and counting). Corbin Bleu, who plays the dancer, moves through most of the dance steps perfunctorily, but that boy can tap. Lora Lee Gayer, as the love interest, is very pretty, and Megan Sikora, as the ruthless career girl who hates farming and chooses Vegas over vegetables, has terrific legs. A large cast dripping charm adds extra vitality and vitamin C to a show that overcomes all shortcomings to leave the family-oriented audience clamoring for more. Holiday Inn is one show that is destined to warm the winter and outlast the holiday season.