Start with a jolly overture. (Is that “White Christmas”?) Curtain up, then a lively opening number: “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” paired with “I’ll Capture Your Heart Singing,” setting up the rivalry between dancer Ted Hanover and singer Jim Hardy. “Ah,” you think, “this will be a welcome respite from all the horrendous news about disease and war from home and abroad.”
But “Holiday Inn,” the Irving Berlin musical having its world premiere at Goodspeed, is mostly downhill from there. Based on the 1942 Bing Crosby – Fred Astaire movie, the libretto, written by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, is featherweight, some of the performances are just irritating, the format is conventional and the whole shebang is about as emotional as a dead turkey.
Lila is Jim’s fiancée, but she doesn’t want to get married just yet because her “career” seems to be on the upswing, what with her and Ted’s engagement at Chicago’s Pump Room on the schedule. (“Why would you get married?” asks Danny, their agent. “I thought the two of you are in love.”)
Jim, ready to settle down, buys a fixer-upper Connecticut farm, although he knows nothing about tilling soil. Buoyed by locals -- an intrusive kid named Charlie; Linda, an attractive former singer who once owned the farm; and Louise, everyone’s BFF handywoman and comic relief – Jim soon fits in.
After several familiar and unfamiliar Irving Berlin songs (from “Blue Skies” and “What’ll I Do?” to “Marching Along with Time” and “Nothing More to Say”), the chorus shows up for the weekend. They’d like to stay longer, but have to get back for their show.
Eureka! Why not open the inn on holidays only? Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Washington’s Birthday, Easter. (No Thanksgiving: For some reason, they performed “Plenty to be Thankful For” in a nightclub, but let that pass.)
There’s lots more plot, all of it singularly uninteresting. But we’ve come for the singing and dancing – and the 26 songs -- right? They’re staged by choreographer Denis Jones and director Greenberg with admirable energy, culminating in a sensational jump-rope sequence.
Noah Racey is a rakish Ted, seducing the audience with come-on smiles. His dancing is fleet, a welcome break from the surrounding jokes. (“Girls are like buses – miss one and another will be along in ten minutes.”) As Jim, Tally Sessions is a cuddly lost soul, not too petulant, not too nerdy.
Patti Murin is lovely to look at and sings stylishly, but her unprojected dialogue scenes are lost. Hayley Podschun is a squeaky Lila, while Susan Mosher‘s Louise channels Carol Burnett. Relief arrives with Danny Rutigliano as Danny and young Noah Marlowe as the curious Charlie, bringing bite to this G-rated throwback.
--David A. Rosenberg
Oct. 24, 2014