Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Honeymoon in Vegas: Delightful Traditionally Styled
Jack Singer is head over heels in love with his schoolteacher fiancée Betsy Nolan, but is terrified of getting married. Ten years ago on her hospital deathbed, Jack's mother forbade him from ever getting married, placing a deadly curse on any girl that he would marry. With Betsy's patience at an end, Jack's fear of losing her propels him to fly Betsy to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding ceremony.
Mobster Tommy Korman spots Betsy in the lobby of their splashy Vegas hotel. Seeing her as a "ringer" for his late wife, Tommy is determined to have her. Before Jack and Betsy can get hitched, Tommy inveigles Jack into a crooked private poker game. In short order, the naïve Jack is $58,000 in debt to Tommy. Tommy explains the dire consequences of Jack's inability to pay off his debt, but offers him a way out. If Jack can get Betsy to spend the weekend with him, Tommy will accept the weekend assignation as settlement of the debt. Desperate, Jack (with a helping hand from the smoother Tommy) gets Betsy to agree. Tommy sells Betsy on flying with him to his palatial Hawaiian house for their weekend. The ensuing complications take us to Hawaii on an extended series of entertaining comic misadventures until the action returns to Las Vegas for the big finish.
Rob McClure reinforces the strong impression that he made with his Tony nominated performance in last season's Chaplin. As Jack Singer, McClure projects a likeable, comically flustered personality and delivers smooth, pleasing vocalizations. Particularly impressive is the personality and humor which inform his superior dancing. Clearly, McClure is not a one shot wonder.
The pert Brynn O'Malley nicely holds her own as Betsy opposite the dominating roles of Danza and McClure. She scores strongly with the toe-tapping up-tempo ballad "Betsy's Getting Married." Matthew Saldivar gives a precisely on-target, perfectly timed comic performance as Johnny Sandwich, Korman's flunky.
Featured actors make strong contributions. Catherine Ricafort is delightfully appealing and very funny propositioning Jack with the Hawaiian Island comic novelty song "Friki-Friki." The G-rated title of this delightful ditty shows that you don't have to be explicit to get your point across. George Merrick repeatedly stands out, scoring comic highlights playing several, often unctuous, roles. Raymond J. Lee provides laughs in his series of roles. Nancy Opel gets all her laughs as Jack's mother. Her comic "Never Get Married" has a delightfully jaunty vaudeville style melody. David Josefberg plays two major featured roles. He is excellent as Roy Bacon, the lead Flying Elvis, rocking the house with the strong Presley-style rock and roller, "Higher Love." As Tony Rocky, a second-rate Vegas lounge singer, he sings "When You Say Vegas" in a strident style which fails to capture any of the pop singer finesse and style that even lesser Vegas lounge singers would bring to it. This song is too good to allow its satiric aspect to bury its kick-ass qualities.
Bookwriter Andrew Bergman has adapted his own screenplay of the 1992 film of the same name (which he directed). Although the principal characters and the plot essentials remain the same as in the movie, Bergman has restructured the story and created a plethora of new scenes and characters so as to make his book a perfect fit for the musical stage. I do not know how Bergman acquired his sure feel for the requirements of a musical comedy book, but the material that he has chosen to retain and the aptness of his wholesale revisions of his screenplay attest to his creative versatility and admirable absence of egotism.
Best of all are the music and lyrics of Jason Robert Brown. For the most part, they mirror the popular and musical comedy music from the 1930s through the years that it was increasingly supplanted by rock 'n' roll and its successors with a forward foray to the music of Elvis Presley. These are not pastiche songs which palely imitate the styles and songs of another era with inferior echoes. Brown's music has the freshness and quality of the original creations of an earlier era. There is a cohesiveness to the score. The songs are fully integrated into the book, accurately reflecting the characters and advancing the plot. In the latter aspect, they are not retro.
Additionally, a couple of the songs satirize the crass elements of Vegas and traditional pop music culture. Because of their clear self awareness and the quality of the music and arrangements, these songs manage to be special treats. They allow us to re-live the pleasure that such songs have given us while simultaneously finding amusement in their crassness. An outstanding example is the previously mentioned "When You Say Vegas" which could become the signature song for Honeymoon in Vegas. Here's a lyric that illustrates what I'm talking about. It sings even without the music. It is sung by a Vegas lounge singer:
The opening number immediately establishes the style of Honeymoon in Vegas. It is a bright, lively song and dance number led by Rob McClure which introduces the scene's New York City setting and Jack's love for Betsy:
Among this plethora of riches, only the title song finale sounds uninspired and formulaic. It seems that the lack of motivation from character and story stifled Brown's creative juices. I hope that Brown and bookwriter Andrew Bergman do some more work here. A reprise of "When You Say Vegas" stylishly sung by Tony Danza at the top would burnish the star performance that Honeymoon in Vegas so smartly provides for him.
The Latin dance musicrumbas, sambas, et al.that was so much a part of our popular music and movie musicals of the 1940s is invoked in several delightful songs. The mellow, maudlin "Out of the Sun," sung by Tony Danza, lyrically satirizes the sentiment in Sinatra's Only the Lonely album yet has music that matches the quality of the music being satirized. Additionally, it advances the plot. Any number of plot and/or comedy songs have amazingly catchy melodies. "You Made the Wait Worthwhile" is a lovely ballad for Danza and O'Malley. The dynamite orchestrations are by Don Sebesky, composer Jason Robert Brown, Larry Blank and Charles Rosen. The vocal and dance arrangements are by Brown, who has composed a rangy, melodious and humor-laden musical comedy cum pop music score reflecting the Golden Age of the Broadway musical.
Honeymoon in Vegas is set in the present, but the Vegas we see and hear reflects the music and culture of earlier eras. I think that Honeymoon in Vegas would be more persuasive if it were set in the vicinity of 1980. Brown would have to give up a neatly rhymed Jay-Z /Beyoncé lyric mention, and Bergman would have to scuttle the use of mobile phones, but it would be worth it.
Nothing here deep or profound, nothing analytical or particularly insightful. Just an expertly written buffo Broadway musical with a delightfully melodious, witty and superbly integrated score, and an expert book chock full of lively fun.
Decked out in a slick and inventive production under the sure-handed, lively direction of Gary Griffin with the witty choreography of Denis Jones, and the evocative and colorful scenery of Anna Louizos, Honeymoon in Vegas is the melodious, laugh-filled, exhilarating entertainment which lovers of traditional musical comedy have been hungrily awaiting.
Honeymoon in Vegas continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday and Thursday 7:30 pm/ Friday and Saturdays 8 pm/ Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 1:30 pm) through October 27, 2013, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 3 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.
Honeymoon in Vegas Book by Andrew Bergman; Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Directed by Gary Griffin