Theater: Studio 54; 1,006 seats; $152 top
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Starring: Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu
"Holiday Inn," the 1942 film that starred Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby, and a calendar full of Irving Berlin tunes, has gotten a complete and first-class stage redo at Roundabout Theatre Company, turning this shaky fixer-upper into prime property that should please audiences looking for an easy-on-the-eyes, none-too-taxing escape. Director Gordon Greenberg and co-writer Chad Hodge have significantly rethought, reshaped, and revitalized the script, giving the show more heart, a slightly modern sensibility, and a joyful spirit. Engaging performances, dynamic dancing, and a lively orchestra make it the feel-good show of the fall.
The musical has an entirely new cast and has been significantly sharpened since its well-received launch at the Goodspeed Opera House in 2014 and its second perch last year at the Muny of St. Louis. Produced in association with Universal Stage Prods, with access to much of the Berlin catalogue, the show is stuffed with standards, supplementing the film's "Easter Parade," "Happy Holiday)' and "White Christmas" with such hum-alongs as "Shaking the Blues Away," "Heat Wave," "Blue Skies," and "It's a Lovely Day Today." And that's just in the first act.
Choreographer Denis Jones is the star player of the production and nearly stops the show with the exuberant "Shaking the Blues Away" which evokes the best of MGM musicals.
The story, now set in more optimistic postwar times, follows singer Jim (Bryce Pinkham) as he splits with his dancing partner and best bud Ted (Corbin Bleu) in order to follow his bliss by buying a farm and living a simpler life. But when the crops run a-crapper and the mortgage is due, he and his Broadway pals turn the homestead into an inn-with-entertainment that's open only on the holidays. (Huh?) There's also the likelihood of romance with local schoolteacher Linda (Lora Lee Gayer)--until Ted shows up, reviving her showbiz dreams.
The lead performers are smashing, especially Pinkham, who turns what could be a bland role into a charmer. There's still not much to Ted's self-involved, ever-smiling character. But Bleu, formerly of the "High School Musical" franchise and "Dancing With the Stars," is a spark plug of energy. Gayner's character gets an upgrade, given intelligence, wit, and life experience. Her performance showcases triple-threat skills, with a sterling soprano and a dry delivery that is human and hilarious.
CREDITS: A Roundabout Theatre Company in association with Universal Stage Prods, presentation of a musical in two acts written by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Director: Gordon Greenberg. Choreography: Denis Jones. Opened Oct. 6, 2016, reviewed Oct. 5., 2016. Running time: TWO HOURS, 10 MIN. CAST: Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora, Lee Wilkof, Morgan Gao, Malik Akil, Will Burton