Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn – Has Christmas Come Early?

By Christina Savopoulos

I don’t know about everyone else, but Christmas has always been my favourite time of the year. The best part about it is watching Christmas movies and trying to imagine it snowing – ignoring the sweltering heat that engulfs Melbourne each December. To be frank, each holiday in the year is the best time of year, but as they pass I think of them as bringing us one step closer to Christmas arriving. The 2017 Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Holiday Inn (performed on Broadway) perfectly encompasses the spirit of each holiday in the year.

Based on the 1942 film by the same name (directed by Mark Sandrich and starring Bing Cosby, Fred Astaire and Marjorie Reynolds), Irving Berlin brings this story to the stage. Having produced the musical composition for both the film and the musical, Berlin is well qualified to make this shift from film to stage performance. The musical production matches the film in all its charm and nostalgia, while the addition of several songs only adds to its true essence and contributes to the magic of the performance.

Featuring leads Bryce Pinkham, Lora Lee Gayer, Corbin Bleu (who is a long way from High School Musical), and Megan Sikora, David Horn’s direction of these actors as well as the vast ensemble cast is successful in creating a joyful, warm-hearted performance.

The story follows Jim Hardy (Pinkham), whose realisation that he’d prefer to settle down rather than take a “shot at the big time” leads him to buy a farm in Connecticut. It is there that he meets Linda Mason (Gayer) and they transform the old farmhouse into a ‘holiday inn’, where they perform individualised musical scores for each holiday. The holidays featured include Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, Easter and the Fourth of July. You’ll definitely be feeling grateful for the chance to sit in on these performances, as the set design of the inn is transformed to perfectly suit the nature of each holiday. But when a wedge comes between Jim and Linda, will she be able to resist the urge of Hollywood charm? A musical about love and hope, this feel-good production will make its way into your heart.

The opening of the live recording features a drawn red curtain as the camera zooms in on the conductor and the musicians playing an opening score. A definite advantage of the recording is this ability to see beyond the stage, an opportunity usually lost for a physical audience member. The detailed and authentic costume design filled with vibrant colours suits the time period of the 40’s. Including sequined pieces for the ‘Hollywood’ musical scores, the constant costume changes allow for a variety of outfits to be showcased. The over-the-top extravagant Easter bonnets during ‘Easter Parade’ not only take up most of the stage space, but also allow for the costume department to showcase their talent. For the Valentine’s Day segment, the pale pinks and vivid reds allude to a sense of love being revealed.

This performance includes incredibly detailed sets for each scene, whilst also including smooth set and scene transitions throughout. The classically beautiful set pieces for all transformations of the interior of the farmhouse create a homey feel and elicit a sense of nostalgia. The detailed decoration of the Christmas tree is definitely a stand-out for me! Although the performance doesn’t take a minimalist approach, instead utilising large set pieces and colourful costume items, this doesn’t take away from the incredible musical scores, the angelic voices of the performers and the beautiful story that unfolds.

Choreographer Denise Jones’ focus on tap dancing successfully creates a lively performance. It’s clear why he was nominated for a Tony for Best Choreography, the award won by Andy Blankenbuehler for Bandstand.  The dancing in ‘Let’s Say It With Firecrackers’ is accompanied by an immaculate lighting design. Each time a ‘firecracker’ is thrown down by Bleu’s character, a sharp bright white light fills that area on the stage floor as a loud ‘crack’ can be heard. The repetition of this in addition to Bleu’s impeccable tap dancing – for which he was awarded Outstanding Male Dancer in a Broadway Show by the Chita Rivera Awards – creates an extremely polished and energetic scene to watch.

The transformation of the farmhouse into the holiday inn is formed from a place of loneliness. Thus, the inn represents the dreams of the characters and the ultimate comfort they find in performing for others. There’s something for everyone in this old-fashioned musical, possessing the ability to transport even the oldest of viewers back to their childhood, eliciting a sense of wonder. This is assisted by the lighting, particularly the fairy lights strung up in few scenes throughout the performance, creating a sense of warmth and home.

Whether slow and moving or upbeat and festive, the songs will be stuck in your head for weeks. There will be moments throughout the musical where you have an “Oh, I know this song” moment, and you’ll be able to watch classic songs you’ve known all your life play out on screen. Bryce Pinkham’s moving rendition of Bing Cosby’s ‘White Christmas’, with his charm and soothing melodic voice is sure to mesmerise you.

In these dark times, Berlin’s production will most definitely be successful in lifting the spirits of even the most Scrooge-like viewer. Although some magic of being in the live audience is lost, this musical will remind you of the spirit of Christmas – and that even though this year may be lasting a lifetime, there’s still something to look forward to.

If you feel like being swept away from reality for 2 hours and are in the mood for a true Broadway musical full of heart, or if you just miss celebrating the holidays with friends, then head over to Broadway HD to view this production. If you can manage the mild buffering from the website, this joyously entertaining performance will be worth your patience. If you’re missing being surrounded by loved ones in this difficult time and need your dose of comfort – sit back, snuggle up with a blanket and tea, hot chocolate or wine, (whichever you prefer) and enjoy this live recording of one of the most spirited stories of all time.

Watch the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of Holiday Inn on BroadwayHD (currently offering 7-day free trials) here.

Image source: Broadway.com