When mid-way through “Honeymoon in Vegas,” Tony Danza is handed a ukulele and serenades Brynn O’Malley, there’s something so charming about him, in a low-key way — although he plays a thuggish, calculating card-shark — that you can almost believe he’d be able to snatch a younger woman from her fiancé on the day they had planned to get married.
That seduction scene could stand in for the whole musical, which is based on a 1992 movie that is implausible, dopey; in places funny and clever; in other places Rat Pack smarmy. Yet, thanks to an enjoyable cast, jazzy score by Jason Robert Brown, and lively choreography by Denis Jones, “Honeymoon in Vegas” the Broadway musical winds up seducing the audience too.
The seduction begins from the very opening, a number wholly invented for this production that takes place on the colorful streets of Brooklyn, when Rob McClure as Jack Singer is exuberantly dancing and declaring in song:
I like taxis, I like trains.
I like Brooklyn when it rains.
But I LOVE Betsy.
The examples get more complex…
I like Shake Shack,
I like MOMA,
and New Jersey’s ripe aroma….
But I LOVE Betsy
…the dancing speeds up as the ensemble joins in , the storefronts slide this way and that, Jack duets with Betsy, winding up triumphantly in the subway:
Here’s a snippet of the scene (the video not quite capturing the excitement of the live performance)
The opener gives a taste of the old-fashioned Broadway confection to come at its best – not an ounce of protein for the brain, but do you really expect nutrition in a dessert?
All is not as happy as it seems in that first scene. Jack and Betsy have been dating for five years, Betsy is impatient to get married, and Jack wants to too – he brings her to Tiffany’s to select an engagement ring…but out pops his mother out of the jewelry display case, in her deathbed (ten years earlier), making her only son promise in song never to get married.
In the movie, this is a single, quick scene at the start of the film, with the mother played by Anne Bancroft. In the musical, the mother is played by Broadway trouper Nancy Opel, and she pops up in the unlikeliest places throughout the show – the prime example of the way in which the show sometimes straddles the lines between cleverness, silliness and excess.
All of this is more or less prologue to the main action, which begins when Jack, afraid of losing Betsy, spontaneously takes her on a trip to get married in Las Vegas. While in the lobby of the Hotel Milano, Betsy is spotted by Tommy Korman (Danza), who is struck by her resemblance to his dead wife Donna, who died of skin cancer from being out in the sun too long. He determines then and there to win her over – and starts with a devious ploy: He invites Jack to a poker game, gets him into impossible debt, and then offers a way to pay him back – allow him to spend a weekend with Betsy. “I’ll be the perfect gentleman, I swear,” he sings to Jack. All that follows — Tommy’s suave con-man moves, Jack’s desperate efforts to win back Betsy, Hawaii, skydiving Elvises — is a more or less faithful adaptation by book-writer Andrew Bergman of the movie he wrote and directed.
The main differences are the score and the performers.
Click on any photograph to see it enlarged
The movie used a compilation of Elvis Presley songs in clever juxtaposition — it would not be surprising if Bergman played some kind of Elvis greatest hits exercise to come up with the plot. As terrific as Elvis songs are, the Jason Robert Brown songs in Honeymoon in Vegas are the major justification for seeing the show, a pastiche of Vegas and Broadway and jazz, homage and satire, playful and heartfelt. Hear them for yourself on Spotify. Especially appealing are the luscious orchestrations (Brown was one of the orchestrators) and intricate rolling piano solos are a delight,
Rob McClure, who was the best thing about Chaplin, lends his talent in physical theater to the role of the schlemiel. A stand-out from the ensemble is Raymond J. Lee, who opens the second act with a terrific Hawaiian number. (He’s second from the right in the four Elvises above.)
But this is Tony Danza’s show. Although best known for Taxi and Who’s The Boss, this is his fourth turn on Broadway, but it his first time originating a role for the stage (although of course James Caan portrayed the gambler/gangster/romancer Tommy Korman in the 1992 movie.) “Honeymoon in Vegas” makes Brown’s last outing on Broadway, “The Bridges of Madison County,” look by comparison like a collaboration with Ingmar Bergman. It would hard to call Tony Danza the Liv Ullmann of “Honeymoon in Vegas,” but he’s for sure its Jerry Orbach, or Robert Alda (both of whom played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls on Broadway) — in other words, a man who belongs on stage.
Honeymoon in Vegas
At the Nederlander
Book by Andrew Bergman; music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; based on the Castle Rock Entertainment motion picture; directed by Gary Griffin; choreography by Denis Jones; music director, Tom Murray; sets and projections by Anna Louizos; costumes by Brian Hemesath; lighting by Howell Binkley; sound by Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy; wig and hair design by Charles G. LaPointe; props by Kathy Fabian/Propstar; flight effects by Flying by Foy; orchestrations by Don Sebesky, Larry Blank, Brown and Charlie Rosen; music coordinator, Michael Keller.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, including one intermission.
Cast: Rob McClure (Jack Singer), Brynn O’Malley (Betsy Nolan), Tony Danza (Tommy Korman), David Josefsberg (Buddy Rocky/Roy Bacon), Nancy Opel (Bea Singer) and Matthew Saldivar (Johnny Sandwich).
|Matt Allen||Hotel Manager|
|Tracee Beazer||Ticket Agent|
|Grady McLeod Bowman||Flying Elvis|
|Leslie Donna Flesner||Buddy’s Showgirl|
|Gaelen Gilliland||Joanne Klein|
|Albert Guerzon||Flying Elvis|
|Raymond J. Lee||Chan Elvis Park|
|George Merrick||Dougie Cataracts|
|Erica Sweany||Buddy’s Showgirl|
|Cary Tedder||Flying Elvis|
|Katie Webber||Cranberry Waitress|
|Sapphire de la Tour|