Honeymoon in Vegas continues at the Nederlander Theatre, New York.
4 stars ****
There’s nothing to take serious about Honeymoon in Vegas, except for the craft of putting together a highly entertaining happy-go-lucky musical. That craft is on serious display in this new Broadway offering.
Jason Robert Brown’s delectable score, Andrew Bergman’s gag-filled book and Gary Griffin’s witty direction seem to have no other purpose than to keep the audience in a happy mood. That holds true as well for Denis Jones’ sprightly choreography, Anna Louizos’ ingenious sets and projection designs and Brian Hemesath’s handsome costumes. And making it all work, is a wonderfully talented cast, headed by one-time TV star Tony Danza, giving their all to please those ticket-buying people in the seats.
The resulting show has the air of some carefree pre-hard-rock early 1960s musical comedy smash: think Bye, Bye Birdie, for example, although that show with its portrait of parent-child relations at least had a hint of social satire.
Bergman’s book, adapted from his screenplay for the 1992 film with the same title, concerns the plight of a hapless New York everyman Jack Singer (Rob McClure), who ten years earlier promised his mother on her deathbed that he would never marry. No girl will ever love him like “his mommy”, the dying mother tells him.
However, for five years, Jack has been in love with Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley), but because of what he now considers the “curse” of his mother, he cannot bring himself to wed. But the extremely patient Betsy is getting impatient and Jack impetuously decides they will fly off to Las Vegas to utilise one of the town’s wedding chapels. But once they arrive there, Betsy is spotted by the slick professional gambler Tommy Korman (Danza). She is the spitting image of Tommy’s late love Donna, and he must have Betsy for his own. How he almost wins her and how Jack wins her back makes up the rest of Bergman’s screwball comedy. It could use a touch of editing in its final wrap-up concerning a flock of Elvis Presley imitators, but it’s hard to complain about anything in this extremely likeable confection.
Brown’s tuneful, bouncy score grandly augments Bergman’s storytelling at every turn of the plot. Brown’s music in past shows, such as the most recent The Bridges of Madison County, has had nearly operatic ambitions. Here the mood is pure conventional show tune-cum-pop, and his lyrics deliver their own share of laugh lines, while furthering the story. The big-band sounding orchestrations also signal the retro mood, with the orchestra itself moving on and off the stage.
With the pulsating opening number in which Jack tells us how he likes a lot of things but loves Betsy, McClure’s Jack wins the audience over and keeps them on his side, even as he falls dumbly for the gambler’s shenanigans. O’Malley gives Betsy intelligence, warmth and loveliness, a gal worth fighting for, and Danza is simply terrific, delivering Sinatra-like vocals and imbuing the slick gambler with more than a soupcon of genuine warmth. He also manages a deft bit of tap dance. Danza is a welcome addition to the Broadway roster of mature leading men.
There are also notable contributions from David Josefsberg as a Vegas crooner and later as the leader of the gang of Elvis Presley imitators, Matthew Saldivar as the gambler’s sidekick, and Nancy Opel as the recurring ghost of Jack’s mother. At one point, she pops from a jewellery counter to thwart Jack’s attempt to buy an engagement ring at Tiffany.
Honeymoon in Vegas is the kind of show this particular New Year, already replete with shock and gloom, needs. Let’s hope ticket buyers, who so far have been reluctant at the box office, decide to take the trip.
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