By Stan Friedman
I had never seen the 1992 film upon which the musical Honeymoon in Vegas is based, so last week, for the sake of due diligence, I rented it. A painful 90 minutes later, I came to the conclusion that if there is any miracle connected to this play, it is that, somehow, someone thought to produce it despite such flimsy source material, Nicolas Cage’s worst ever performance (which is saying something), and James Caan in a role he mindlessly walks through. It would be virtually impossible to make a musical as bad as the film, even with Andrew Bergman, the film’s screenwriter, writing its book. Thankfully, given a strong score by Jason Robert Brown, fleet of foot direction by Gary Griffin, and knockout performances by its two leads, Honeymoon is much, much better than it has a right to be.
Even though Honeymoon is a new musical, it is about as old fashioned a show as one can currently find on Broadway. Delightfully, it begins with an Overture; a full orchestra, in black tie no less, performing on stage. Then, the musicians are shooed off to the wings. so that the 23-member cast can get busy with the singing, hoofing and story-telling. It’s a classic boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back tale, seasoned with variations of classic stock characters. There’s a villain who does truly terrible things, but he’s lovable. There’s a bossy mother, but she’s a ghost. There are Elvis impersonators, but they are sky jumpers. And like any trip to Vegas, this two and a half hour getaway is full of both highs and lows, and lasts just a little too long.
The boy and girl are Jack (Rob McClure) and Betsy (Brynn O’Malley). After a five year relationship that has failed to produce an engagement ring, Betsy informs Jack that it’s now or never. So, off they go to Vegas for a quickie wedding. But complications ensue, as they are wont to do in musical comedy. Jack is continually haunted by the vestige of his mother (the hilarious Nancy Opel) and her deathbed demand that he never get married (“If you find some girl and think I’ll soften/I’ll claw my way out of the coffin.”). And Betsy falls prey to the wealthy, lonely swindler Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), because it turns out that she is a dead ringer for his deceased wife. Indecent proposals are proffered, things that happen in Vegas don’t stay in Vegas (Act 2 finds everyone being seduced in Hawaii), and Jack dons a parachute, before romantic order is finally restored.
McClure, who won critical acclaim playing the title role in Chaplin, here again displays his great comic timing, fine physical humor and masterful double takes. O’Malley, meanwhile, shows off a wonderful singing voice be it during an upbeat ballad (“Anywhere But Here”) or jazzy comic number (“Betsy’s Getting Married”). Danza has a more difficult time, though it is not entirely his fault. Yes, he hits his notes but his singing voice is not quite Broadway-worthy, and the concentration he shows during a solo tap number makes it seem overly strenuous, but the bigger problem is that his character (as was also the case in the film) is written as a very nasty liar for whom we are supposed to feel sympathy. It all gets disturbingly absurd with his number “Out of the Sun,” wherein he bemoans his wife’s death, which was due to over-tanning. Trying to eke out some humor from a song about melanoma leads to such lyrical atrocities as “She was beautiful, beyond compare, roasting like a chicken in her chair” and “I was a fool – so blind and deaf. I might have saved her with a higher S.P.F.”
Respite comes from a vocally strong ensemble, from Anna Louizos’ vibrant set which makes good use of the tall Nederlander stage and a trap door that serves as a subway exit, a swimming pool and an elevator, and from Denis Jones’ choreography with its splashy charms, though there are noticeably few huge dance numbers, given what opportunities exist.
Honeymoon in Vegas – Book by Andrew Bergman, music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown. Directed by Gary Griffin.
WITH: Rob McClure (Jack), Brynn O’Malley (Betsy), Tony Danza (Tommy), David Josefsberg (Buddy/Roy), Nancy Opel (Bea), Matthew Saldivar (Johnny), Matt Allen, Tracee Beazer, Grady McLeod Bowman, Barry Busby, Leslie Donna Flesner, Gaelen Gilliland, Albert Guerzon, Raymond J. Lee (Raymond), George Merrick (Teihutu), Jessica Naimy, Zachary Prince, Catherine Ricafort (Mahi), Jonalyn Saxer, Brendon Stimson, Erica Sweany, Cary Tedder, Katie Webber.
Choreography by Denis Jones; scenic design by Anna Louizos, costumes by Brian C. Hemesath; sound design by Drew Levy and Scott Lehrer; lighting by Howell Binkley; music director, Tom Murray; production stage manager, Matthew DiCarlo; stage manager, Rachel Bauder. At the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, 877-250-2929, http://www.honeymoonbroadway.com, Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes.