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23, Dec 2017
Holiday Inn cast photo by Joan Marcus

Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn returns to movie screens

by Steve Cohen
The Cultural Critic

Fathom Events is presenting Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn for Christmastime enjoyment on movie screens. Berlin conceived Holiday Inn as a live stage show, so the concept of adapting it as a musical for the stage seemed natural.

In 1942 it premiered as a movie instead, and became one of the most-loved films of all time. In 2014 it was adapted for the theater stage of Goodspeed Opera House in Connecticut, and I reviewed it favorably. In 2016 the Roundabout Theater brought it to Broadway, and that production is on cinema screens this holiday season, thanks to Fathom Events.

Irving Berlin sent a letter to his lawyer in February of 1939: “Happy Holiday by Irving Berlin. This is a first rough draft for a revue. The important holidays in a year will be shown in rotation.” In April 1941, Berlin met film director Mark Sandrich: “I told him about my idea of a musical revue based on holidays and he thought it would make a perfect movie for Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire.” So the idea turned into a film, and a plot was constructed about a singer who retired and bought a farm in New England, and, finding it tough going, hit on the idea of turning the farm into an inn that would only be open on holidays.

This became one of the most popular movies of 1942 and two of the songs written for it — “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” (for Valentine’s Day) and “White Christmas” — were hits. Crosby’s recording of the latter became the best-selling single record of all time, and a 1954 movie was centered on that song and borrowed a bit of its plot from Holiday Inn. Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge have beefed up the plot and written a new script, which Greenberg directs.

Bryce Pinkham and Corbin Bleu assume the roles originally played by Crosby and Astaire. Pinkham is amiable while Bleu is brash. His character is the piece’s bad boy, but Bleu’s personality and dancing steal the show. Pinkham was better in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder which showcased his charm; this role could use a stronger romantic baritone voice (like Crosby’s).

Lora Lee Gayer plays the former owner of the Connecticut property, an independent woman who is courted by both of the leading men. She is tempted by a career while her loved one wants to retire. Megan Lawrence provides laughs as the inn’s wisecracking handywoman, Lee Wilkof is a comically pugnacious agent, and Megan Sikora is the ditzy former partner of the song-and-dance team.

As was usual with movies, the original Holiday Inn didn’t have enough songs to fill a two-act stage show, so Greenberg and Hodge searched the Berlin trunk for additional compositions to fill out the evening.

“Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” from the 1949 Berlin show Miss Liberty provides a nice love duet. “Heat Wave” (introduced in his 1933 musical As Thousands Cheer) relates to the summertime, though not to a specific holiday. “Blue Skies” (written by Berlin in 1926) demonstrates the optimism of the innkeeper, while “What’ll I Do?” (written for Berlin’s 1923 Music Box Revue) is a poignant love song.

Gayer introduces a little-known Berlin creation, “Love Leads to Marriage / that leads to divorce / that leads to lawyers / Expensive, of course,” which is an uncharacteristic curiosity. Berlin wrote it in 1956 for a never-produced musical, The Legendary Mizners, a subject Stephen Sondheim addressed in his Wise Guys, renamed Bounce and finally Road Show between 1999 and 2008.

But the soul of Holiday Inn is the array of holiday-specific songs from the original movie. These include “White Christmas,””Easter Parade,” and “Song of Freedom” for Bleu’s Fourth of July tap dance with firecrackers. “Let’s Start the New Year Right” sizzled with streamers and balloons. All of the scenes that commemorated holidays at the inn feature energetic hoofing, choreographed by Denis Jones.

The show is being screened across the country at movie theaters which carry Fathom Events, and the cast CD is available on Ghostlight Records.