In this era of strip-mining existing properties for every last nugget of nostalgia, a stage adaptation of the 1942 film “Holiday Inn” feels like more of an inevitability than a stroke of inspiration.
The 1942 film “Holiday Inn” is meek entertainment, bare threads of a halfheartedly improbable plot strung together by the considerable charms of Bing Crosby’s crooning and Fred Astaire’s tapping. (Director Mark Sandrich did better capturing lightning in a bottle with his Astaire-Ginger Rogers pictures, including all-timers “Top Hat” and “Shall We Dance.”)
In this era of strip-mining existing properties for every last nugget of nostalgia, a stage adaptation of “Holiday Inn” feels like more of an inevitability than a stroke of inspiration.
Retaining half-a-dozen of Irving Berlin’s songs from the film — obviously, the appalling blackface-accompanied “Abraham” is gone — and adding another dozen or so Berlin numbers, including “Blue Skies” and “Cheek to Cheek,” the musical is blandly pleasant holiday fare. Still, it dilutes the original’s modest appeal with a new book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge that bloats proceedings with mild incident.
Through Sunday, Dec. 31, 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 5th Ave., Seattle; $46-$185 (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org)
Originally produced on Broadway in 2016 by Roundabout Theatre Company, “Holiday Inn” is now on stage at the 5th Avenue Theatre, directed by departing executive producer and artistic director David Armstrong, and James A. Rocco, with a cast of familiar 5th faces.
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Eric Ankrim’s golly-shucks charisma plays nicely as Jim Hardy, an erstwhile stage star who longs for a quiet life, buying a farm in Connecticut to fulfill his pastoral fantasies. His song-and-dance partners Ted Hanover and Lila Dixon (Matt Owen and Taryn Darr) can’t quite believe Jim’s departure from show business, and each acts as his foil in business and romance.
In a show with no villain and very little real conflict, Owen and Darr both land their performances in the sweet spot of callously-indifferent-but-not-too-callously-indifferent.
In this iteration, Linda Mason (Sarah Rose Davis) isn’t an aspiring performer, but a schoolteacher whose family farm gets purchased in foreclosure by Jim. In their attempts to flesh out the female lead role, Greenberg and Hodge have given Linda more backstory and motivation — but it’s all based around a desire to inhabit traditional domestic roles. Who needs personal or artistic fulfillment when you have a ring on that finger?
Davis has enlivened more cardboard characters than this though, and her lovely voice has a way of diminishing any scene’s apparent flaws.
In the featured supporting role, Lorna Luft adds a welcome comic jolt as Louise, a slightly nonsensical new character who acts as the inn’s caretaker and occasional matchmaker. Less gratifying is a local teenager (Caden Brauch and Kristoffer Holtan, alternating in the role) who keeps showing up on behalf of the bank to deliver past-due notices, proving that “annoying comic relief kid” isn’t a trope relegated to moppets.
Richard Gray is also here as the group’s agent, in a role so infinitesimal, he’s presumably performing in another gig at the same time.
Jim’s decision to turn the farmhouse into a musical venue that’s open only on holidays — made no less preposterous by some additional narrative maneuvering here — is a testament to that grand old backstage musical tradition of putting on a show to fix any problem. And in the show’s easy standout, the rousing “Shaking the Blues Away,” a talented ensemble taps some life into the production itself as they convince Jim of the power of performance.
It’s an isolated pulse-raising moment in a show that neglects its ensemble to its detriment. Nicely sung renditions of “White Christmas” and “Plenty to Be Thankful For” and “Easter Parade” are nice, and not much more.