Holiday Inn, the classic 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire film that introduced the world to the Irving Berlin standards "White Christmas" and "Be Careful, It's My Heart," seems like a great candidate to become a stage musical. It has everything you could want: four great leading roles, romance, and a whole lot of show-biz razzle-dazzle. It may have taken 72 years, but this beloved movie has finally come to the theater, in a world premiere production at the historic Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, and it's as much of a natural as you expected it to be.
It's also different from the movie, and in the best possible way. Adapters Gordon Greenberg (who also directs) and Chad Hodge have not merely plopped Claude Binyon's screenplay onto the tiny Goodspeed stage, they've given it a wholesale face life, adding characters and songs, and raising the stakes to turn a slight story into something a lot more dramatic.
The inciting incident is still the same — song-and-dance team Jim Hardy (Tally Sessions), Ted Hanover (Noah Racey), and Lila Dixon (Hayley Podschun) break up when Jim announces his desire to marry Lila and move to a Connecticut farmhouse he recently purchased. Jim still goes off to the farm alone, only rather than Lila admitting she's fallen for Ted, the pair runs off together to chase a huge career opportunity. Now playing the role of doting house husband to no one, Jim meets Linda Mason (Patti Murin), a small-town schoolteacher with a performing past, who grew up in the house that Jim now inhabits.
The will-they-won't-they story between the lonely Jim and the even lonelier Linda — and their slow-simmering sexual tension — makes up the bulk of the show. Unlike the film, this stage version finds Linda lured back into performing by Jim (in the film she is an airport florist who begs for a chance at stardom). The first act culminates in penniless Jim's decision to turn the place into a bed-and-breakfast that's open only on the holidays. On New Year's Eve, the night of their first performance at the Inn, a drunk Ted waltzes in and finds himself back on the stage, with Linda in his arms.
Greenberg and Hodge have produced an intelligent update, one that jettisons certain plot points to turn the show into a family-friendly two-acter (Ted is no longer a cad who tries to steal both of Jim's women). The result is a script with a great deal of dramatic heft featuring a terrific score (which now includes tunes like "Heat Wave" and "Steppin' Out With My Baby" to go along with "Easter Parade"). The whole package is almost eerily reminiscent of a Golden Age musical, one that wears its heart on its sleeve and aims only to please.
Under Greenberg's direction, the four leads are on a similar '50s-musical page. The squeaky-voiced Podschun is a hoot as the flighty Lila in the mold of Guys and Dolls' Miss Adelaide. Natural-born dancer Racey thrills with his delivery of "Song of Freedom," excellently choreographed by Denis Jones in a loving tribute to the film. In Alejo Vietti's costumes, the sweet-voiced Murin looks like she's just jumped out of a period photograph. Sessions brings his own natural charm to the role indelibly played by Bing Crosby, and even playfully alludes to Crosby's vocal patterns as he buh-buh-boos "White Christmas." Susan Mosher and Noah Marlowe are bona fide scene stealers in two newly invented characters who provide comic relief. The Golden Age mentality also extends to Anna Louizos' set, which makes lovely use of Currier and Ives-style backdrops and a brass-and-string heavy orchestra (led by Michael O'Flaherty) that sounds much larger than its eight members.
While the future life of Holiday Inn is unknown, there's no question that it's perfect fall-season fare. If Broadway beckons, this crowd-pleaser should gladly answer the call.