Irving Berlin’s ‘Holiday Inn’ Sleighs ‘Em In Times Square; Judith Light’s Transparent Scandal: Reviews

Joan Marcus

Holiday Inn sets the Broadway musical back 75 years. I doubt anyone will be complaining.

An exuberant, shamelessly old-fashioned tap-and-tuner presented by the Roundabout Theatre Company at its Studio 54 theater, this adaptation of the 1942 Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire Paramount film is an endorphin assault, inducing warm-bath pleasure like no other show since 42nd Street. The dancing is spectacular, the singing sublime, the visuals are ingenious and, almost incidentally, there’s the cataract of Irving Berlin songs that includes his sole Oscar winner, “White Christmas.”

As with recent archaeological digs into the Gershwin canon (Crazy For You, Nice Work If You Can Get It), fidelity to the source material is a non-starter. With 1,500 songs in the Berlin catalogue to choose from, the new show’s adapters Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Chad Hodge have augmented the film score with a basketful of chestnuts including “Blue Skies,” “Heat Wave,” “It’s A Lovely Day Today” and “Cheek To Cheek.”

Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer and Bryce Pinkham, in 'Holiday Inn.'
Corbin Bleu, Lora Lee Gayer and Bryce Pinkham, in ‘Holiday Inn.’ Joan Marcus

The story’s as predictable as February. B-level song-and-dance trio Jim Hardy (Bryce Pinkham), Ted Hanover (Corbin Bleu) and Lila Dixon (Megan Skora) may be on the cusp of a big-time booking but Jim, the singer, has had enough of the grind. He proposes to Lila and produces the deed for a farm he’s bought in Connecticut. But he’s underestimated the ambition of both Ted (the primo dancer) and Lila (the sex angle), who opt for a major gig their agent Danny (Lee Wilkoff) has just arranged.

That leaves Jim down on the farm, where the spinsterishly alluring previous owner Linda (Lora Lee Gayer) endows him with her invaluably yentalike caretaker Louise (Megan Lawrence, in the Mary Wickes role). If that last reference is familiar, it’s because even in this somewhat mish-mosh version, you can still see the bones of what became, a dozen years after Holiday Inn, the smash film White Christmas, in which Wickes played just such a part. Of course Jim and Linda fall in love; of course Ted shows up to muck it all up, of course the old gang appears out of the blue to put on a show and save the farm as well as the day. You gotta problem with that?

Pinkham, a Tony nominee for A Gentlemans Guide To Love & Murder, is no crooner; indeed, he’s the Ethel Merman in the mix, singing like the brass section and selling every word to the balcony. Corbin Bleu, of the High School Musical franchise, is the discovery, tapping up a storm that recalls the young Sammy Davis Jr., technical brilliance and cockiness and goodtime in one barely containable package. Sikora also has the right metalurgy of voice, while it’s up to Lawrence to infuse the operation with warmth, and she’s endearingly up to the task.

Joan Marcus

The show, which was developed at Connecticut’s redoubtable Goodspeed Opera House, has more set changes than I could count, and everyone of the stage pictures designer Anna Louizos unveils is a postcard-perfect bit of vaguely surreal whimsy; ditto the delicious costumes by Alejo Vietti (with a special nod to the inventor of weighted hemlines). Above all, Denis Jones (Honeymoon In Vegas) deploys a smallish troupe of dazzling hoofers with a perfect mix of precision (enforced) and abandon (brilliantly faked, no doubt).

It may be instructive to think back to last season’s revival of Dames At Sea, a similarly retro show that featured plenty of talent but lacked the spark of life so evident here. The one nit I’d pick is the interpolation of “Cheek To Cheek,” a centerpiece of the show but one I felt was out of place; it’s indelibly linked to Astaire and Rogers and a level of elegance that’s beside the point here. (I also could have done without the hawking of Universal Pictures, which now owns the film and is a producer of the show.)

Nertz on that, however. Holiday Inn found me cranky and left me otherwise, and there’s really nothing more to say.


Judith Light in 'All The Ways To Say I Love You.'
Judith Light in ‘All The Ways To Say I Love You.’ Joan Marcus

Playing Shelly Pfefferman, the wife of Jeffrey Tambor’s morphing Maura in Amazon’s Transparent, Judith Light makes human complexity seem achingly true and accessible. How many times have you wanted to wrap your arms around her, be both comfort and willing student of her immense dignity? It’s a rare attribute that I’ve yet to see in Light’s stage performances, and All The Ways To Say I Love You is no exception. This Neil LaBute monologue dresses up the sordid tale of a horny married teacher and her affair with a very young African-American student in a lame  approximation of Greek tragedy that reaches way beyond its soap-opera grasp.

Staged by Leigh Silverman for the adventurous MCC Theatre, All The Ways begins with Light’s Mrs. Johnson posing a question: “What is the weight of a lie?” That struck me from the get-go as a waving red flag: Beware the dopey portentous question, because it will for sure be a device manufactured solely to be referenced later with Deep, Possibly Ironic, Meaning. And so it is here, as Mrs. Johnson “reluctantly” tells the tale of her good but unsatisfying marriage, her lust and its consequences, and her less-than illuminating discovery of just how much a lie weighs. Mrs. Johnson is a wallowing, self-regarding narcissist who can’t stop protesting how much she loves Mr. Johnson (I mean her husband), how much credit she deserves for getting her young lover into college, and how unguilty she feels. The show is effectively staged by Leigh Silverman for the adventurous MCC Theatre, and I believe we’re supposed to admire her for her “honesty,” but I wasn’t buying any of it for a second.

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