By now, you’re probably sick of “White Christmas.” But if you can bear to hear it one more time (actually two, since there is a reprise) in more or less its original setting, go to see one of the last remaining performances of “Irving’s Berlin Holiday Inn” at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn. It’s there through Dec. 30.
The Irving Berlin standard was written, after all, for the 1942 film version of “Holiday Inn,” in which Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire co-starred. I wrote “more or less” in the prior paragraph since the adaptation the Paper Mill is presenting (co-written by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, and directed by Greenberg) strays quite a bit from the movie, with many other Berlin favorites — including “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “Cheek to Cheek” — added, and a number of plot alterations. (This version premiered at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Conn., in 2014, and ran on Broadway in 2016 and 2017.)
Rest assured, though. If you’re a fan of the original movie, and classic Hollywood musicals in general, I’m pretty sure you’ll enjoy “Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn,” the stage musical — a crowd-pleasing concoction of razzle-dazzle dancing, low-key humor, and a heartwarming message.
Square-jawed Jon Hamm look-alike Nicholas Rodriguez plays Bing Crosby — uh, Jim Hardy — an accomplished but down-to-earth crooner who longs to retire to a Connecticut farm with his fiancée, dancer Lila Dixon (Paige Faure). Co-starring as Fred Astaire — I mean, dancer Ted Hanover — is Jeff Kready.
Jim, Ted and Lila’s song-and-dance act comes to a sudden end when Jim announces his desire to retire from it; Lila stays on the road temporarily, but this arrangement becomes permanent when Lila summons the strength to tell Jim that country life just isn’t for her.
“I can live with a lot of things, but I can’t live out here with all these vegetables!” she says.
Jim, meanwhile, finds it’s not so easy to make a living from farming, but with the help of schoolteacher Linda Mason (Hayley Podschun), whose family used to own the farm that he buys, he turns the farmhouse into an entertainment venue, putting on shows on holidays only.
You can probably see where all this is going. Things keep going wrong with Holiday Inn, until they go right. Jim and Linda — who turns out to be a stunningly talented singer and dancer herself — fall in love. Ted and Lila reappear, causing various complications.
Hollywood eventually comes calling for rising star Linda, and the show’s climactic scene skewers big-budget Hollywood shallowness — which is pretty ironic, given that the original “Holiday Inn” was as Hollywood as it gets.
Offering valuable comedic support are Ann Harada as Jim’s wise-cracking farmhand and all-around helper, Louise, and Jordan Gelber as his persistent, battle-scarred agent, Danny. “Do you know what happens in Connecticut? Nothing. You end up antiquing, and repressing your feelings,” he tells Jim, trying to lure him back into show business.
Costume designer Alejo Vietti comes up with some outrageously over-the-top bonnets for the “Easter Parade number. Among the actors, Podschun is the standout, unleashing Linda’s formidable talent, more and more, in each scene: You can easily see how her character would capture Hollywood’s attention.
Overall, this is a polished and very likeable production, with more than 20 songs by one of the greatest tunesmiths of the 20th century. It’s a bit old-fashioned, to be sure, but there’s a reason why stuff like this was wildly popular the first time around.
“Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn” will be at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn through Dec. 30. Visit papermill.org.
Thank you for your review-Jay!!