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Broadway Review: ‘Holiday Inn’

With:
Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora, Lee Wilkof, Morgan Gao, Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jenifer Foote,Matt Meigs, Shina Ann Morris,  Catherine Ricafort, Drew Redington, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer, Parker Slaybaugh, Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Travis Ward-Osborne, Paige Williams, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley, Borris York.

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 (TV’s “Good Behavior,” “Wayward Pines”) 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, keeping things playful by finding dance opportunities with wheelbarrows, firecrackers and Christmas garlands — and nearly stopping the show with the exuberant “Shaking the Blues Away,” which evokes the best of MGM musicals. Terrific also are Alejo Vietti’s costumes and fab Easter hats, which embrace ’40s swank, showbiz glitz and stylish down-on-the-farm casual. (It’s Connecticut, after all.)

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 (between gigs, natch) turn the homestead into an inn-with-entertainment that’s only open 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. As he did in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder,” he brings sex appeal, dark grace and a beguiling tenor that underscores the character’s sweet sincerity and vulnerability.

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, and his hoofing in “You’re Easy to Dance With” and “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers” are two of the musical’s dance delights.

Gayner’s character here gets an upgrade, given intelligence, wit and some life experience. Her performance showcases triple-threat skills throughout, with a sterling soprano and a dry delivery that is both human and hilarious. (Confident director Greenberg knows just when to take that extra moment to wait for a laugh, or for a look to land.)

Offering solid comic support are Megan Lawrence as the inn’s wisecracking handywoman, who can cut loose with the best of them even with milk pails on her feet; Lee Wilkof as the veteran talent agent; Megan Sikora as Ted’s former dance partner and fiance; and Morgan Gao as a local kid with special deliveries.

This clever musical should have longer legs than the Yule-centric stage version of “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” especially for those yearning for an old-fashioned respite from political angst, or for those who just can’t wait until “Hello, Dolly!” comes to town in the spring.

Broadway Review: 'Holiday Inn'

Studio 54; 1,006 seats; $152 top. Opened Oct. 6, 2016, reviewed Oct. 5., 2016. Running time: TWO HOURS, 10 MIN.

Production: A Roundabout Theatre Company in association  with Universal Stage Productions presentation of a musical in two acts written by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge. Music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

Creative: Directed by Gordon Greenberg. Choreography, Denis Jones; set, Anna Louizos; costumes, Alejo Vietti; lighting, Jeff Croiter; sound, Keith Caggiano; music direction, Andy Einhorn; orchestrations, Larry Blank; vocal and dance arrangements, Sam Davis; production stage manager, Michael J. Passaro.

Cast: Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu, Megan Lawrence, Megan Sikora, Lee Wilkof, Morgan Gao, Malik Akil, Will Burton, Barry Busby, Darien Crago, Caley Crawford, Jenifer Foote,Matt Meigs, Shina Ann Morris,  Catherine Ricafort, Drew Redington, Amanda Rose, Jonalyn Saxer, Parker Slaybaugh, Samantha Sturm, Amy Van Norstrand, Travis Ward-Osborne, Paige Williams, Victor Wisehart, Kevin Worley, Borris York.

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