If you’ve been hiding under a rock, the beloved 1942 Christmas film Holiday Inn starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire as successful song and dance men both in love with Lila, the girl in their act. Preferring a simpler life, Bing/Jim has purchased an Inn where he plans to live with Lila who’s accepted his marriage proposal. At the last minute she decides she’s in love with Fred/Ted and her career. Jim leaves for Midvale, Connecticut alone.
He refurbishes the picturesque place, but unable to support it decides to offer dinner theater as frequently as he needs to keep it going – on holidays. Thus, Holiday Inn. In a mix-up of identities, aspiring performer Linda shows up in Connecticut looking for a job. Here’s where “White Christmas” first comes in as a newly penned song Jim sings to the pretty stranger. By New Year’s Eve, the show’s up and they’re smitten.
Megan Sikora and Corbin Bleu
Meanwhile Lila leaves Ted for a millionaire. Bereft without a partner the moment Hollywood calls, he turns up wildly drunk at the inn on December 31, grabs Linda and dances up a storm. She rescues his inebriated infirmity and makes them look good (unfortunately not well executed here.) The crowd thinks they’re a new team He passes out.
In the morning, Ted remembers her feel in his arms and the look of her legs but can’t otherwise recognize the girl. Offering his celebrity to bring in an audience, he plays several holidays in search of the unknown woman determined to make her his new partner. (A missed comic opportunity is not including the scene where Ted weaves among couples checking out women’s legs much to everyone’s puzzled offense.) Jim can see familiar writing on the wall and takes steps to prevent their meeting…which comically fail. Miscommunication causes a rift but all comes out swell in the end.
Lora Lee Gaynor and Bryce Pinkham
Of the wry, sophisticated, entertaining story, we retain nothing wry or sophisticated. (This includes orchestrations by Larry Blank which sound like summer stock.) Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu), and Lila Dixon (Megan Sikora) are playing Flatbush when we meet them. So much for the decision to walk away from a highly successful career. She accepts his ring postponing marriage a mere 6 weeks, (uh huh), later showing up at “the farm” to break it off adding another song.
Linda Mason (Lora Lee Gaynor) is a schoolteacher (a former actress of course, though conveniently with zero ambition) whose family used to own the house/inn. Mamie and her children (who were black), Jim’s sole kitchen help and company, have disappeared, undoubtedly for political reasons. Instead we have “fix-it man” Louise (Megan Lawrence dressed like Rosie the Riveter) who takes steps to help her, here, completely hapless boss and plays matchmaker. (Jim has been reconceived as so awkward he seems obtuse.) Also added is a child (Morgan Gao) who works for the local bank?! delivering bills and mortgage notices with admonition. Virtually all his appearances feel out of place.
Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Holiday Inn is always televised at the end of the year as its centerpiece is Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas.” Likely in order to prolong touring possibilities, whereas almost all the numbers in the ebullient original took place at the Inn, here we spend time watching glitzy Ted and Lila perform elsewhere. Several production numbers involve a company of theater kids who appear out of nowhere at just the right moment in the Garland/Rooney Let’s Put On a Show mode. We’ve jettisoned intimacy and diminished the love story.
There are 21 songs squished into this facsimile, most brief, many – some obviously – not from the original. It’s like sitting at a restaurant table elbow to elbow with other diners. Few are comfortable. The book is sketchy and often blatantly derivative inserting an occasional wink, wink line from another film. It serves merely to carry us from song to song.
Bryce Pinkham. Megan Lawrence, and The Company
Having said this, I’m trying to imagine how I’d feel about the show if I was unfamiliar with the film. I think I’d find it overstuffed, fragmentary, and homogenized, though parenthetically entertaining. The company is bright, enthusiastic, and good hoofers, especially Mr. Bleu. Overall, voices are excellent. It’s a pleasure to see Bryce Pinkham on stage again, though one wishes him a better vehicle next time. And I look forward to further roles by new-to-me Megan Lawrence who has spirit and brass.
As one of the book writers, Director Gordon Greenberg carried through his vision with continuity. Choreography by Denis Jones is fun. A scene using holiday garlands as jump ropes works splendidly. Anna Louizos’ Set Design is well conceived but looks as if corners were cut in execution.
Costume Designer Alejo Vietti does a yeoman-like job, but excels at millinery. Not only does Bing Crosby’s hat show up later on (no sign of the pipe), but fanciful Easter bonnets are unquestionably the show’s visual highlight.
Also featuring Lee Wilkof as the act’s agent Danny, who doesn’t make enough of his ba-dump-dump lines.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gaynor, Bryce Pinkham
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
The New Irving Berlin Musical Holiday Inn
Music & Lyrics by Irving Berlin
Book by Gordon Greenberg & Chad Hodge
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Choreography by Denis Jones
254 West 54th Street
Through January 1. 2017
“The world is so censorious, no character will escape.”
From the moment we hear “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and get a gander at Mr. Snake’s (Jacob Dresch) green pompadour wig, we know we’re not in Kansas anymore; this will not be just another good production of the familiar eighteenth century Sheridan play. Indelicate bathroom sounds emitted by Lady Sneerwell (Frances Barber) who enters in her corset and petticoat, recoils at a glimpse of herself in the mirror, and is powdered (her breast) and sprayed with cologne (beneath her skirt) by her confidante, cement the presumption that this particular interpretation of the piece is going to be a hoot. And it is.
Frances Barber, Jacob Dresch
In an era with neither The National Enquirer or Gawker, aristocrats pursued word-of-mouth gossip as entertainment as much as to promote personal agendas. Salons were ubiquitous. Amorality ruled.
Ok, in brief (deep breath) Lady Sneerwell has conscripted gossip columnist/critic Mr. Snake to further her designs on Charles Surface (Christian Demarais), a dissipated, bankrupt extravagant. Both Charles and his brother Joseph (Christian Conn) are stuck on heiress Maria (Nadine Malouf), ward of Sir Peter Teazle (Mark Linn-Baker) who partially raised the boys in their traveling uncle’s absence.
Mark Linn-Baker and Henry Stram
Sir Peter is just married to a country girl who could be his daughter. The new Lady Teazle (Helen Cespedes) was chosen for a fresh, uncomplicated nature that has turned to fashionable acquisition and matrimonial defiance. “If you wanted authority over me, you should’ve adopted me, not married me.” Unfortunately for him, her cowed husband loves the lady. Sir Peter favors Joseph over Charles and does everything he can to help the young man’s amorous suit (which Sheridan curiously doesn’t show) while Master Ranji (Ramsey Faragallah) “a family confidante from the Punjab,” (think Jeeves), does everything he can to help Master Charles.
Ramsey Faragallah, Mark Linn-Baker
Silk stocking malice is fueled by Mrs. Candour (Dana Ivey) whose life appears to revolve around being in the know, society poet, Sir Benjamin Backbite (Ryan Garbayo) also pursuing Maria, and his shifty, affected uncle, Mr. Crabtree (Derek Smith). Smith also plays moneylender Mr. Midas whose slick fedora, long coat and shades are the man’s only character distinction-a missed opportunity.
When Sir Oliver Surface (Henry Stram) unexpectedly returns from the Near East these 16 years later, he decides to test his nephews’ integrity by way of several masquerades. Then things get complicated!
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram,
Of particular note:
Dana Ivey’s motormouth Mrs. Candour, tricked out in low, hanging breasts and matronly padding, emerges an obtuse, busybody grande dame. Ivey, as always, is an artful pleasure. As Mr. Crabtree, Derek Smith looks like Antonio Bandaras in a Charles Adams cartoon or a villain out of the Batman franchise. The actor oils his way around the stage with balletic movement and delightfully treacherous aura. His glee in dispensing hearsay is palpable.
Jacob Dresch (Mr. Snake), who would make a perfect Puck (Midsummer’s Night’s Dream), is intoxicating. The actor flickers with expression worthy of the silent screen yet never crosses that line. Listening (overhearing) is tart, phrasing crackles with ulterior motive. The character’s late request to keep secret one moment of mortifying honesty is terrific.
Christian Demarais, Henry Stram, Christian Conn
Christian Demarais (Charles Surface) exemplifies the kind of attractive, unrepentant rake popularized in romance novels. Gestures and expressions are exaggeratedly broad indicating an uninhibited, young squire feeling his oats.
Mark Linn-Baker’s conservative, fussy, egocentric, rabbit-like Sir Peter is at every moment a delight. When he addresses the audience, we feel bemused but empathetic. The thespian holds attention with frisky, seemingly effortless energy.
The nimble Stram seems patrician to his bones. We see his upbringing even as Sir Oliver insecurely role-plays. With accomplished focus, the actor makes his character’s second deception seem more fluent than the first. When apoplectic, he’s restrained, when pleased, a hug bursts forth as if unaccustomed. Reasoning feels grounded, resolution fitting. A rewarding turn.
Ben Mehl, who plays the small parts of various servants, executes deadpan hesitance and piquant reaction.
Henry Stram,Nadine Malouf, Christian Conn, Christian Demarais, Ramsey Faragallah
How Director Marc Vietor manages constant, screwball flourishes without descending to kitsch is a marvel. Every character takes her/himself so seriously, froth organically rises to the top. Timing is impeccable. A scene at Joseph’s house is physical vaudeville. One at Charles’s home is visually clever and theatrically rowdy-a nice change. Vietor is not just imaginative, but original.
Original Music and Sound Design by Greg Pliska is, though ‘modern,’ amusing and on target. Andrea Lauer’s Costume Design and Charles G. LaPointe’s colorful Wig and Hair Design are inspired. Authentic period depiction paired with contemporary detail contributes immeasurably to winking mood and character. Anna Louizos’ stylized Set Design is painterly, eschewing competition with the costumes. Paneled, wallpapered walls effectively hide doors, windows and even a library offering charming surprises.
Photos by Carol Rosegg.
Opening: Dana Ivey, Frances Barber, Helen Cespedes
Red Bull Theater presents
The School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Directed by Marc Vietor
Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through May 8, 2016