Book yourself into “Holiday Inn” just to see the pyrotechnics when tap whiz Corbin Bleu dances around, dodging faux explosives that are snapping at his feet. It's a routine made famous by Fred Astaire in the movies, but the “High School Musical” star breathes into it new life.
Bleu’s performance -- and fresh choreography by Denis Jones -- are the big draws to “Holiday Inn,” which arrives at Studio 54 with a feel-good book inspired by the 1942 film. The musical fits 20-plus songs from the Irving Berlin catalogue into a story about a farm that will be lost to foreclosure if the new owner can’t figure out a way to pay his bills.
“White Christmas,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “Blue Skies” are some of the classics presented in elaborate, turquoise-hued production numbers.
Bryce Pinkham, the “Gentleman’s Guide” Tony nominee, stars as Jim, a song-and-dance city slicker who shuns show biz to grow vegetables in Connecticut. The previous owners may have lost the farm to the bank, but daughter Linda (Lora Lee Gayer, of “Doctor Zhivago”), a schoolteacher, still has her old house key.
As Jim and Linda build the farm into a music hall that will only be open on public holidays, their romance is interrupted by the drunken arrival of Jim’s best friend, Ted (Bleu), who thinks Linda would be better off as his new dancing partner in Hollywood.
The new text is by Chad Hodge and Gordon Greenberg, who also directs.
Pinkham is wonderful with the technical challenges of his role; sometimes, the aloofness he's creating for the performance hinders our ability to plug into Jim's needs and heartbreak.
Though Bleu has had other Broadway leading roles (both “In the Heights” and “Godspell”), this ought to cement his place as a Rialto bigwig. Beyond the crowd-pleasing “Let’s Say It With Firecrackers,” he makes hay with the second-act opener, “You’re Easy to Dance With,” which has him searching for the girl -- that is, Linda -- who had swept him off his wobbly feet the night before.
Gayer is sweet and effective in the musical’s stock leading lady role. I would’ve enjoyed more of Megan Sikora, as Lila, the fame-hungry starlet who is Jim’s girlfriend as the musical begins. Lila is gone for most of the second act, though it’s obvious the plot is structured so she’ll end up with Ted as the end draws near.
Megan Lawrence (“The Pajama Game”) rises above some mawkish dialogue as Louise, the handyman-turned-matchmaker who connives to stay on when Jim takes over the farm.
A sequence that has cast members jumping “rope” with a string of garland is phenomenal.
The book modernizes the love triangle between Jim, Ted and Linda so that Ted is merely competing for Linda’s business talents. Make note: Though “White Christmas” gets a nice, understated treatment in the first act, this isn’t the “Christmas” musical that had seasonal runs on Broadway in 2008 and 2009.
“Holiday Inn” is a lovely excuse to get lost in the Berlin chestnuts, particularly as they’ve been reimagined by choreographer Jones (“Honeymoon in Vegas”). The new story sometimes tries too hard to be charming and old-fashioned, but overall “Holiday Inn” is a satisfying autumn offering.
“Holiday Inn,” through Jan. 15, 2017 at Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St. Tickets: $47-$152. Call 212-719-1300.
Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn