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A CurtainUp Review
Honeymoon in Vegas
By Elyse Sommer
Yes, it's another mildly successful movie based musical with hopes of metamorphosing into a Broadway hit. In this case, the producers have invested a ton of money to support that ever-elusive dream: super glitzy production values . . . a Grade A cast headed by Tony Danza, Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley . . . a book by Andrew Bergman, who both wrote and directed the 1992 movie . . . music and lyrics by the prolific Jason Robert Brown in a suitably lighter than usual mode, splendidly played with an old-fashioned big band flavor by a bakers'dozen of on stage musicians.
Despite some tinkering with the film's details, Bergman has stuck to its deliberately contrived, jokey premise: The deathbed command of controlling mother Bea Singer (Nancy Opel) that her son Jack prove his love for her by never getting married. His every attempt to free himself from this cursed death wish is blocked by her ghostly appearances every time he comes close to the altar. However, per his opening song, he loves Betsy and Betsy's patience is wearing thin after five years of dating. Jack's plan to escape the curse is to head far from mom's home territory in New York and get married in Las Vegas. This might work if mom's curse weren't replaced by a new threat: It seems Betsy is the dead image of shady entrepreneur Tommy Korman's dead wife. He and his sidekicks inveigle Jack into a fixed poker game resulting in a bizarre arrangement for Betsy to spend a weekend at Tommy's Hawaii estate. Complications follow complications until the inevitable happy ending
I asked my New Jersey colleague, Simon Saltzman who saw Vegas in New Jersey and revisited it on Broadway, if anything had changed (including his less than positive opinion). According to him Tony Danza has definitely warmed up to his part. But Danza's charm didn't alter his lack of enthusiasm for the overall silliness of the plot and characters.
But as Simon stands by his opinion, I stand by my earlier comment that buying a ticket for Honeymoon in Vegas might be a better buy than a plane ticket to the actual Vegas. This glitzy, frenzied marriage interruptus is indeed ultra silly. It's also too loud and some of the sight gags, like the big-breasted harpist, are painfully tasteless.
So, unlike the man in back of me last Saturday who was apparently back for the second time and loved it even more, one viewing of Honeymoon in Vegas is more than enough for me (and probably anyone). However, it is well executed, lively kitsch. The aura of the splashy, light on thought-provoking substance 30s and early 40s shows that it aims to recreate, now as then, provides a welcome brief respite from the tough realities of the world we live in. You're unlikely to see another Broadway show to equal the non-stop parade of eye-popping sliding and pop-up scenery, colorful costumes and a cast so obviously having a great time that it becomes contagious.
Robert Jason Brown's score may not feature any stick-to-the-ear breakout tunes but all smartly evoke the targeted mood and aura. And his lyrics are terrific! They rhyme without being forced and have an often wry, story propelling wit that put him on a par with the musical theater's reigning king of clever lyrics. Denis Jones's choreography is consistently lively if not ground breaking.
Danza, though not without stage credits (He played the bartender in the last Broadway revival of ) The Iceman Cometh is not a trained singer. So his performance is mainly buoyed by easy charm and gameness. That includes strummnig a banjo, an applause getting tap dance sequence and a solo that does full justice to the lyrics that showcase Brown's way with characterizing rhymes, "Come to an Agreement."("we could come to an agreement,/ i'm an easy-going guy/you could have a happy landing/ if we had an understanding.").
While Rob McClure's Jack is a patsy for the slick entrapment of Danza's Tommy, McClure the performer is as winning here as he was in Chaplin . Brynn O'Malley can't make a case for the attractive Betsy's sticking with the schlemielish Jack for five years, but it's easy to understand why he loves her. Her most memorable number is a beautifully delivered a wistful song about her frustration in the show's best ballad, "Anywhere But Here."
Nancy Opel, one of those character actors who aren't box office magnets but who work steadily on and off-Broadway, can add another feather to her cap for her hilarious portrayal of the mother from hell. Another very funny secondary role is delivered by Matthew Saldivar as Tommy's not too swift aide-de-camp who changed his name from Foccaccia to Johnny Sandwich.
David Josefsberg ably does double duty as the Lead singer of the flying Elvises and as Buddy Rocky, the tacky lounge singer who introduces the snappy "When You Say Vegas" number ("When you say 'Vegas/ You're sayin' 'Love/ You're sayin' diamond rings/ And all the things/ That little girls dream of/ You're hearin' bells go ring ding/ Ding for me and you/ In Las Vegas, the land where dreams/ Come true').
In case Honeymoon in Vegas is too gaudy and lightweight for your taste, I suggest that you catch the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods, currently at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theater. However, it's a sure bet that Josefsberg and his fellow Elvises will have the real departed Elvis smiling and clapping in the Great Beyond's hall where iconic rock stars reside.
For a video montage of what you'll see click here .