“It’s like cotton candy,” says actor Lee Wilkof. In a good way.
Old-school musical comedies, song and dance romps...for some reason shows like these can get a bad rap. People often judge them as frivolous. But the cast and creative team behind Holiday Inn know that the joy and escape they’ll provide at Studio 54 isn’t an act of frivolity; on the contrary, right now, it’s of utmost importance.
“I believe we’re in extremely troubling times, and lots of people are feeling lots of anxiety; this is a little trip away from that,” says Wilkof. “Everybody can come and forget about what’s going on in the real world—every song is going to make everybody crazy with happiness.”
In fact, so many people felt the need for this on Broadway that the show was fast-tracked. (It’s been less than three years since Holiday Inn transformed from an idea in a conference room to a Broadway bow.) Having tested the waters in a small house (Goodspeed) and in a huge amphitheater (MUNY), the show finds its middle ground on the Main Stem. Still, “I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this,” confides Greenberg, “but the house guys [at Studio 54] say that this is the biggest show they’ve ever had there in terms of pure bulk of scenery and props and special effects. It’s huge.”
Based on the 1942 Oscar-winning movie of the same name, Holiday Inn follows an actor, Jim, who’s left show biz for a quieter life in Connecticut. Of course, you can take the actor out of the theatre, but you can’t take the theatre out of the actor; so Jim turns his new farmhouse into an inn, featuring performances to celebrate each holiday throughout the year. He finds a star (and a connection) with local schoolteacher Linda. A love triangle forms when Jim’s best friend, dancer Ted, tries to lure Linda to Hollywood.
The romp is a new style for leading man Bryce Pinkham, who takes on the Bing Crosby role from the film. “There’s nobody who sounds like Bing Crosby, so I’ve given myself permission to not try, [but instead] to really try and make it my own,” says Pinkham. “We found the right keys for me to sing the songs, and I think people are going to get to hear me sing in a way I haven’t before on Broadway, which I’m really excited for.”
Pinkham agrees that audiences are in need of Holiday Inn. “Irving Berlin wrote these songs in 1942 when our country and our world was confused about their next steps,” he says. “The reason Bing Crosby said yes to [the movie] is because he wanted to provide some escape and bring some joy back into the conversation. He wanted to provide a literal holiday for people to step away from their confusing, chaotic lives for a few hours.”
Greenberg, along with choreographer Denis Jones, have put together a show (based on a glimpse at rehearsal) worth spending a few hours on. “It’s the kind of music that, for a choreographer, is the greatest blessing in the world,” says Jones. The score includes tunes like “Blue Skies” and “Steppin’ Out With My Baby.” Audiences can expect “lots of tap and lots of ballroom and incredible athleticism that these dancers bring into the room.”
“I was very inspired by these kinds of films as a child,” says Jones. “I started taking tap when I was very young because of these films I saw on television. … But in no way shape or form is my goal to replicate any of that choreography.”
Indeed, Jones is a choreographer that builds for the people in his cast. In the role originated by Fred Astaire, he has Corbin Bleu (In The Heights, High School Musical). “I’m tapping in this show!” exclaims Bleu. A trained dancer out of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, audiences might be surprised to know that Bleu has serious hoofing skills. “The guy’s got amazing feet,” says Jones. “I had no idea. We met a few months ago to meet and talk about this, and he brought his tap shoes along, and we started playing around in the room. I just won the lotto.”
Even as the show’s origins harken back to the heyday of musical theatre, contemporary audiences need not balk. “This is a 2016 version of this,” says Pinkham. “We’re doing it because it’s a new version, it’s been adapted by our contemporaries, and we are providing audiences the chance to reflect on how far we’ve come—considering the style and manners in which the original was made and the differences we’ve chosen to make in ours. It’s a history lesson, it’s a civics lesson, and it’s a damn good time.”
Watch highlights from the press preview for Holiday Inn: