Surflight Main Stage Season Opening With Irving Berlin’s ‘Holiday Inn’

Beach Haven — Surflight Theatre’s first musical of the 2019 season will be “Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical.”

It will be performed at 2 p.m. on June 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 18 and 23 and at 8 p.m. on June 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21 and 22. Tickets are $39 for adults and $29 for children 12 years of age and younger. They may be purchased online at surflight.org, by phone at 609-492-9477 or at the box office.

“Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical” is based on the 1942 movie “Holiday Inn,” which starred Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. The musical’s book, by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, follows Claude Binyon’s screenplay fairly closely, with one very major change indeed that will be described later.

I’ll wait until next week’s review to lay out the plot, which revolves around love triangles, in detail. But much of the action takes place at a farm in Connecticut which – on major holidays only – is transformed into a entertainment venue, thus the name of the movie and musical. It was Berlin’s idea, and a crafty one at that – he would compose a song for each of our country’s biggest holidays, which he surely hoped would become synonymous with those days.

Berlin was successful to some degree. You’re not going to get through a Christmas season without hearing “White Christmas.” “Easter Parade,” which Berlin had written in 1933 but included in “Holiday Inn,” remains a popular secular Easter song. “Happy Holiday” was performed on New Year’s Eve in the movie and has aged well, even if most people associate it with Christmas these days.

On the other hand, Berlin’s “I Can’t Tell a Lie,” composed for Washington’s birthday, has been forgotten, which is a good thing considering its lyrics:

I could say that you’re homely,
Just as homely as pie!
But this is Washington’s birthday,
And I’ve got to say you’re beautiful,
’Cause I can’t tell a lie!

Even worse was Berlin’s “Abraham:”
In eighteen sixty, he became
The sixteenth president
And now he’s in the hall of fame
A most respected gent …

When black folks lived in slavery
Who was it set the darkie free?
Abraham, Abraham.

Toss in the fact that “Abraham” was performed in blackface in the movie and it is easy to see why both presidential birthdays were removed from the musical.

Luckily that left room for some Berlin classics to be added such as “Cheek to Cheek,” “Heat Wave” and “Blue Skies.” “The interpolated songs are integrated into the plot smoothly enough,” wrote Charles Isherwood in The New York Times, “without lifting the show’s mild temperature or bringing new definition to the characters.”

“Holiday Inn, The New Irving Berlin Musical” generally received critical praise but wasn’t a hit. Its Broadway run was short, opening on Oct. 6, 2016 and closing on Jan. 15, 2017. It did earn a Tony Award nomination, for Best Choreography, and one Drama Desk nomination, for Outstanding Choreography. That could provide a clue that Surflight’s “Holiday Inn” will contain some rousing dance showstoppers.

It is interesting that Surflight is producing “Holiday Inn” in June, a month that is devoid of holidays save for Flag Day and Father’s Day. It would seem that it would make a great Christmas show, perhaps explaining the short run on Broadway. Then again, it could fit in perfectly because June could have a heat wave or, let’s hope, blue skies.

— Rick Mellerup

Reposted from The Sandpaper