Honeymoon in Vegas was performed at the London Palladium.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
The London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO) once again proved itself to the most exciting new force on the London theatre scene with a spectacular concert staging of Jason Robert Brown’s playful Honeymoon in Vegas at the Palladium.
The event – the show’s UK premiere – was made all the more memorable for JRB’s presence at the podium, leading this remarkable 30-piece orchestra and even jumping on the piano for the playout music (and turning his hand to the ukulele mid-show).
Honeymoon in Vegas is based on the 1992 Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker movie of the same name, written and directed for the screen by Andrew Bergman. Something of an unsung hero of the screen, it was Bergman we have to thank for the likes of Blazing Saddles, Soapdish and Fletch, but he also provided the book for the stage adaptation of Honeymoon.
With music and lyrics by Brown, the show opened on Broadway in January 2015, but despite its wonderfully sassy songs and accessible storyline, it failed to set New York alight and closed on 5 April.
Two years on – and with a new beefed up orchestration – the show made it to London for this one-night-only concert version, and really wowed the capacity Palladium crowd, as the three standing ovations attested.
The story is daft but a lot of fun. Mummy’s boy Jack (Arthur Darvill) defies the deathbed wish of his mother (Rosemary Ashe) to never marry and takes his girlfriend Betsy (Samantha Barks) to Vegas for a quick wedding.
There, before exchanging vows, he loses a game of poker to gangster Tommy Korman (Maxwell Caulfield) and settles the debt by allowing Tommy to spend the weekend with Betsy, who happens to be a deadringer for his deceased wife.
Along the way, as Jack battles to win back Betsy’s affections, he encounters amorous Hawaiians, officious airport officials and skydiving Elvises (Elvi?), all to comic effect.
LMTO’s founder Freddie Tapner has not just amassed an outstanding orchestra – comprised of pro and amateur musicians who meet for monthly playthroughs for the fun and experience of tackling a full musical – but for this particular show attracted a royal flush of a cast to go with it.
The perfectly matched Darvill and Barks absolutely sparkled on stage, with Darvill milking every bit of comedy from the role. Both sounded fantastic and you couldn’t help but root for the hapless Jack and flustered Betsy.
The top-billed Caulfield was less impressive vocally, but made up for it in devilish charm, and totally threw himself into the role of the bad guy, supported by the ever-reliable Nicholas Colicos as henchman Johnny Sandwich.
It was the peripheral cast that got most of the laughs and cheers. Rosemary Ashe was hilarious as Jack’s mother Bea – her song ‘Never Get Married’ was an early highlight, and her repeated appearances from beyond the grave never failed to raise a smile.
Simon Lipkin was in fine form as Vegas crooner Buddy Rocky and, in Act II, skydiving Elvis impersonator Roy Bacon, the latter allowing for Lipkin’s particularly joyous impersonation of The King, complete with gyrating pelvis and curled lip.
Even funnier was Maisey Bawden as the over-sexed Mahi desperate for some ‘wet and sticky friki-friki’ with Jack.
Despite the concert staging, director Shaun Kerrison provided the leads and the 16-strong LMTO Chorus with enough to do to keep it lively.
Given the short rehearsal period, and the fact that it was a one-nighter, the minor issues with sound balance and missed mic cues did little to dampen the audience’s enthusiasm. It was obvious from the overture that the night was going to be something special, and it was impossible to walk away without a smile on your face.
So bravo to Tapner and his exciting venture, which is changing how London is experiencing musical theatre, on both sides of the stage.
Honeymoon isn’t even Jason Robert Brown’s best score, but it sounded better at the Palladium than anything else I’ve heard this year. With more LMTO concerts on the horizon – I’m particularly looking forward to Candide in July at the Cadogan – we’re going to be spoiled by this phenomenal orchestra and the top-notch creatives that it attracts.