In one main respect, the world premiere Goodspeed Musicals production of Holiday Inn has already received the best review it could hope for: the show’s run has been extended twice. It is playing through Dec. 28—a month after it was originally scheduled to close. Folks are willing to make the potentially perilous mid-winter drive out to East Haddam, at dark and probably with snow on the ground. Must be a must-see.
The funny part of the extension is that the show is about a theater, a Holiday Inn, which only presents shows for short runs on holidays. Despite its having song-and-dance numbers which take place on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Holiday Inn will not be performed at the Goodspeed on those days. If you’re going to add extra performances for this particular show, those days would seem obvious.
But of course Holiday Inn is not a real business enterprise. It is sheer escapism. It is also, in musical theater terms, a sure thing. It’s a jukebox musical where the songs on the jukebox are by one of the most successful composers of musical theater ever. Holiday Inn was a successful Hollywood musical with 15 new Irving Berlin songs, several of which became some of the biggest hits of his long career.
The Goodspeed’s world premiere production, which I caught back in early November, revises the film version to the stage admirably. A racially insensitive number from the film, “Lincoln’s Birthday,” has been removed, since February holidays are already neatly covered with the George Washington-referencing “I Can’t Tell a Lie.”
Somehow they’re able to rein in all those scene changes from the film (theaters, outdoors), swapping sets in a crazy hurry and keeping most of the action in the single spacious building that gives the show its title.
There’s some wisecracking about the dullness of Connecticut, which gets chuckles at from the Goodspeed audiences already primed for this world-premiere stage production.
“Ya know what happens in Connecticut?”
“How humiliating! I’m in Connecticut!”
What Holiday Inn does expose is how imbalanced Holiday Inn is in terms of conventional stage musicals. It’s all about the leads. There’s a ubiquitous chorus line, but these performers are barely developed and are basically relegated to saying “Yeah” when one of the stars sez “Let’s put on a show.” Splashy dances and all that, but no show-stealing specialty numbers to speak of, no opportunities for the back line to break out and shine at the front of the stage. You can feel the vast distance between the star roles and the supporting ones.
As for those sitting-pretty leads, who get all the good stuff, there’s been at least one cast change since I saw the show, but what I saw was being deliberately underplayed, especially compared to the cloyingly charming Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire in the film. Director Gordon Greenberg was going all in for nonchalance and romance. Snappiness was lost. So was the likeability of the Ted Hanover character. In any format of this story, Ted needs an impossible amount of charisma to be seen as anything but a despicable drunken cad with stars in his eyes. Yet he’s the third part of what, for a short while anyway, needs to be a believable romantic triangle. Tough role.
But nevertheless, surefire show, and the Goodspeed orchestra makes it even surefirer by swinging the overture at a brisk tempo and letting you know immediately that this is an upbeat, happy holidays entertainment. That tempo’s kept brisk for just about everything except “White Christmas,” which is as it should be. Holiday is not about taking “An Old-Fashioned Walk.” It’s about “Shaking the Blues Away.”