The Connecticut farmstead setting in “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” isn’t the only thing that receives a makeover in this charmer of a tuner preeming at Goodspeed Musicals’ Opera House (and produced in association with Universal Stage Prods.). The 1942 movie musical that starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire gets an impressive and stylish re-do, too. Far superior — and more marketable — than the single-holiday-themed stage version of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” this “Holiday Inn” is better conceived and crafted, although a bit of retooling is required for the show to step up from “pleasant” to “must-see.”
Many of the show’s elements — Denis Jones’ witty choreography, Alejo Vietti’s fab costumes, the clever script by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge and playful and measured helming by Greenberg — recall that gold standard of re-purposed shows, “Crazy for You.”
The show couldn’t be more jam-packed with song standards, supplementing the film’s “Easter Parade,” “Happy Holidays” and “White Christmas” with a wide scoop from the Berlin songbook, adding “Shakin’ the Blues Away,” “Heat Wave,” “What’ll I Do,” “Blue Skies” and a few lesser-known gems. But it takes more than music to make an audience care, and this creative team re-calibrates this tasty trifle wisely and well.
Reset in sunnier days of the post-war era, the story centers on the showbiz split of singer Jim (Tally Sessions) and dancer Ted (Noah Racey), with Jim seeking a simpler life running a New England inn. For Ted, showbiz is the only biz. But a return from the old pal — with a tempting lure of fame and fortune — jeapardizes Jim’s romance with local teacher Linda (Patti Murin).
Offering old-school laugh support is a crew that Capra and Sturges would be proud to enlist: Susan Mosher as the inn’s wisecracking handywoman, Danny Rutigliano as a sparkplug of an agent, Hayley Podschun as Ted’s former dance partner and Noah Marlowe as the very funny, nonplussed local kid.
The script by Greenberg and theater newbie Hodge (whose many TV projects include the upcoming “Wayward Pines” for Fox) grounds the work around the theme of the authenticity of “real” country life versus the artificiality of showbiz — but it also doesn’t take itself too seriously either. (“Connecticut? You’ll end up wearing plaid and repressing your feelings,” says Ted on hearing Jim’s decision to ankle the biz.)
Racey has a fine time with his character’s ego-driven obliviousness, and his dancing is terrific. Sessions sings beautifully, but sometimes his sad-sack moments tend to lessen this leading-man role, while Murin brings sex, intelligence and humor to a part that was forgettable in the film — and stellar here.
Still needed: A few more killer moments to join such crowd-pleasers as the jump rope number, the beguiling “You’re Easy to Dance With,” or the very funny Hollywood scene with its accompanying film clip. With a complete finish to this fixer-upper, “Holiday Inn” has the potential for full-calendar bookings.