When it was announced that they were mounting a Broadway musical based on the classic Bing Crosby-Fred Astaire movie vehicle, everyone but me seemed pretty optimistic. This is presumably because everyone else had forgotten about the mediocre and pointless stage adaptation of its later sister film, White Christmas, that flopped on Broadway eight years earlier. Well, in a development that should have surprised no-one, this unnecessary stage adaptation of a classic musical movie fared little better than its predecessor (or the Gigi stage version, or the stage versions of Meet Me In St. Louis, or Singing In the Rain, or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, or Hans Christian Anderson, or Swing Time, or Top Hat, or High Society, or…I could go on all night).
The book was praised in the playbill notes as ‘fresh’ and ‘new’, but it’s actually utter hackwork. The plot somehow manages to be less credible and logical than the original film (which, let’s remember, was made in the 1930s, when standards for musical scripts were much lower than they are today). Worse, the unfunny dialogue is so predictable and cliched that the audience can see every punchline coming long before it arrives. Granted, the original movie’s script was no great work of literature either, but at least it entertained. Here, the space between the musical numbers is simply dead weight.
The Irving Berlin songs are, of course, all wonderful, but most of them are already familiar to everyone in the audience, and most of those people have presumably heard them performed better than they are here. Bryce Pinkham is a wonderful musical actor, as A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder proved irrefutably, but he’s simply not a good enough pure singer to play a Bing Crosby part…at least one where Crosby’s glorious voice is actually a plot point. Pinkham’s thin tenor just doesn’t sound like it could melt a woman’s heart through sheer vocal beauty alone, and the role explicitly requires no less. And thanks to the terrible writing, he and his love interest come off as humorless drips in all their dialogue scenes, which makes it hard to like or care about them.
His co-star, High School Musical alumnus Corbin Bleu, is a wonderful dancer, but he isn’t really right for this character. Holiday Inn gave Fred Astaire a rare chance to play a caddish, deceitful, almost villainous character, but because he was, well, Fred Astaire, he still came off as irresistibly charming. Bleu just makes the character seem like a manipulative, treacherous, girlfriend-stealing creep. And as good a dancer as Bleu is, he simply can’t convey character through dance alone the way Fred Astaire could. Granted, neither can anybody else, but I’d argue that’s a good reason not to try to duplicate this film onstage. It doesn’t help that his onstage vis-a-vis is Megan Sikora, who plays Lila as another one of those obnoxiously shrill comic caricatures that are showing up far too often on Broadway lately. I understand it in something like Bullets Over Broadway, but why here? Lila certainly wasn’t like this in the film, and it doesn’t really fit in well with her role in the story.
The choreography is admittedly excellent…the only times the show comes to life are during the dance numbers. But it feels frankly wasted on a project like this. Why couldn’t this fine choreography have been done for an original show, or at least a more interesting recycled one than this, where the rest of the material was actually up to its level? If you really love a good production number and want to go see this show for the dancing alone, I suppose I’d understand. But I think you ought to know that everything, including the dancing, is better in the original film, which can be viewed for a fraction of the cost of a Broadway ticket. I’d really recommend you seek that out rather than waste your time with this pointless glorified cosplay. Apparently they intend to turn this production into another one of those Broadway livestreams, which means there will actually be two movie versions of this property. But this fact does nothing but highlight how utterly redundant the very existence of this adaptation was from the very beginning.