Heaven, I’m in heaven, And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak – so go the lyrics in Irving Berlin’s Cheek to Cheek now a part of the Holiday Inn score for the new production of that creaky old musical playing at Studio 54. Never have lyrics been more inapt for an occassion. There was nothing heavenly about this woefully dull and thoroughly dispiriting exercise in egos, onstage and off. Miscast, misdirected, misplayed – no hearts were beating anywhere in the vicinity. Appalling in nearly every way.
Alejo Vietta provides some truly colurful and inventively period costumes for the company of Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge’s new version of the old Irving Berlin tunefest, Holiday Inn. Vietta’s contribution is the single greatest achievement of the production. There is always crisp, interesting fabric to look at.
Choreographer Denis Jones provides some energetic and acrobatic choreography, so that when Berlin’s tunes get into full-flight mode, there are nifty, nimble steps and tap-tap-tapping to divert the senses. There is a skipping number which is particularly aspirational, but when, as tonight, the company cannot skip rope at the speed of the number, it really doesn’t work. Too often, though, the routines seem endless – and pointless.
Greenberg, responsible for the vibrant and genuinely enchanting Guys and Dolls in London and on tour earlier this year, has missed almost every target in this production. The cast is dull, the script is creakier than the last version, full of sexist, racist and unfathomable things of the ist kind and the energy levels are sub-optimal throughout. If this is Holiday Inn, its the kind of holiday where nothing good happens and every bad thing that might happen does.
The horror begins with the first phrases of Berlin’s lovely score. An acoustic bass is the only stringed instrument in the pit. Why bother to stage an Irving Belrin score in a Broadway house if you are not going to have a full strings section, or even a reduced one? Synthesised strings, no matter how well played and programmed, just don’t cut it. Real strings lift the melodies, support the harmonies, inspire the vocals and excite the audiences. The recent concert of State Fair showed what proper orchestral support can do to an old fashioned score.
The horror continues with the charmless, styleless, tasteless performances from the lead cast. What is this? Blancmange Inn?
For the central characters to have any chance of appealing to the audience, they must be sweet, charming, graceful and real – not cardboard mugs with voices out of some mawkish operetta. None of the leads, but especially the dreary Bryce Pinkham who is required to shoulder much of the burden of the narrative and garner the audience’s sympathy (not pity), performed with a trace of panache and none met the challenges set by the book and music.
Corbin Bleu was off for the evening and his cover, Kevin Worley, was playing his first performance in the role. This wasn’t good news for anyone; Worley seemed singularly under-rehearsed and ill prepared. Megan Lawrence is occassionally distracting as the handyman Louise but she seemed a pale imitation of Caroline O’Connor more than anything else, without her voice or agility.
Danny Rutigliano and Morgan Gao do their best with roles that are, as written, either questionable (in Rutigliano’s case, as Danny) or downright objectionable (in Gao’s case, as Charlie) because of the racial/social stereotypes they embody.
To be fair to them, in most cases if you close your eyes and just listen to them sing, the principal cast – including Pinkham – acquit themselves well in a dusty, mothballed, old-fashioned way. But nothing about the vocal performances breathes life into Berlin’s wonderful music.
And you never believe that there is true love in play – or even true friendships. There just is no sense of infectious simple joy anywhere, despite that being precisely what is needed to propel Holiday Inn.
The ensemble sing and dance but not with any special degree of enthusiasm or talent. They seem as tired of the show as the audience becomes. Not even the prospect of White Christmas can inspire much good will.
If you have a ticket, sell it – or give it to someone you don’t like. There is nothing to see here. Step away from Studio 54.