Special Reports

Reinventing Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn for the Stage

Writer/director Gordon Greenberg develops the 1942 film classic for the stage.

Gordon Greenberg is the director and coadaptor of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn.
Gordon Greenberg is the director and coadapter of Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn.
(© Diane Sobolewski)

"It's one of the best-loved scores ever," Gordon Greenberg says of Holiday Inn, the 1942 Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire musical film that launched the lives of now-classic Irving Berlin songs including "White Christmas" and "Easter Parade." Greenberg, the director and reinventor of musicals including Working and The Baker's Wife, is now helming the show in a new adaptation he coauthored with Chad Hodge. The world premiere production is currently running at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, through December 7.

The classic film revolves around Jim Hardy (Bing Crosby's role, here played by Tally Sessions) and Ted Hanover (Fred Astaire on film, now Noah Racey), longtime vaudeville performers whose partnership comes to an end when Ted announces that he's going to run off with Jim's girlfriend, the dancer Lila Dixon (Hayley Podschun taking on Virginia Dale's screen role). Jim, using this as the impetus to retire, buys a New England farmhouse and converts it into an inn that is open to the public only on major holidays. It's a relatively quiet existence, until Ted returns and sets his sights on Jim's new lady friend, Linda Mason (Patti Murin, in the Marjorie Reynolds role).

For Greenberg, it was the opportunity to make the story that had a surprising mature subject matter (for a family film) just a touch more family-friendly. "In the original, it was a romantic triangle," he says. "Fred Astaire was literally stealing his best friend's fiancée. In this version, it's not about him stealing his best friend's fiancée, but instead offering her a golden opportunity in show business." It's an idea that he finds more contemporary — "the pull of accomplishment and success and how one defines that" — and one that he hopes will resonate with today’s audiences. That's not the only thing that's been changed. The painfully dated blackface number "Abraham," presented in honor of Abraham Lincoln's birthday, has been excised completely, as it is when the film is broadcast annually on television.

Bringing the film to the stage also provided Greenberg the opportunity to search through Irving Berlin's illustrious song catalog for additional tunes. "The original film didn't have enough songs to make a full musical on stage, so we've added quite a few," Greenberg says. Among the songs new to the material are "Heat Wave," "Steppin' Out With My Baby," "Shakin' the Blues Away," and "What'll I Do." "It's been a great joy to have access to the Irving Berlin canon. It's an education in songwriting."

Despite the presence of a cast of Broadway regulars and the backing of none other than the Universal Stage Productions division of Universal Pictures, a New York run isn't guaranteed. Still, the success of the stage version of Berlin's White Christmas, which toured the United States and Europe before landing on Broadway in 2008 and 2009, is encouraging. But the two shows couldn't be more different, at least in terms of becoming a holiday perennial. "The difference between that and this is that this is a musical in ten holidays, as we like to say. Christmas is only a small percentage of the show. We spend just as much time on Easter," Gordon says. "Just in terms of Americana, it probably has more in common with The Music Man than it does with White Christmas."

Patti Murin as Linda Mason and Noah Racey as Tim Hanover in Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn at the Goodspeed Opera House.
Patti Murin as Linda Mason and Noah Racey as Ted Hanover in Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn at the Goodspeed Opera House.
(photo courtesy of the production)

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