Will you fall in love with Honeymoon in Vegas, the latest Broadway movie adaptation that hopes to capitalize on a (semi) familiar title to lure audience goers into spending upwards of $199 for premium tickets? Well… that depends on your type. With a book by Andrew Bergman (who also wrote the screenplay) and music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, The Last Five Years), Honeymoon in Vegas is love at first site—or rather, first listen. Brown’s dynamic score is his most accessible to date, pumped with a big band sound led by music director and conductor Tom Murray. It sets the bar high and Honeymoon mostly delivers.
The story follows commitment-shy Jack Singer (Rob McClure) and his fiancée of five years, Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley), as they jet set to Las Vegas in hopes of dismissing the looming curse of Jack’s deceased mother Bea (Nancy Opel) and finally tie the knot. In one of the show’s most inventive numbers, Bea appears to Jack as a hallucination thanks to some clever stagecraft courtesy of scenic and projection designer Anna Louizos.
Once in Vegas, the couple crosses paths with con artist Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), who immediately falls for Betsy from afar as she brings back memories of his deceased wife. This sets in motion a scheme to blackmail Jack, seduce her, and apparently live the rest of his life is deceptive marital bliss. The trio eventually find themselves in Hawaii for more antics as Jack chases down his fleeting bride-to-be, and as you might imagine, it’s all resolved with obligatory Elvises in tow.
Honeymoon in Vegas works, in large part, thanks to Brown’s crafty music and lyrics. It’s Sondheim-light in the best possible way as he manages to deliver everything from a comedic ballad about melanoma to a mile-high Elvis production number. But Brown (whose off Broadway hit The Last Five Years transfers to the big screen this February starring Jeremy Jordan and Anna Kendrick) also taps into the human spirit and offers his leading players opportunities to showcase their acting chops.
As the nebbish and perpetually uptight Jack, McClure (Chaplin: The Musical) is the everyman you’re rooting for from the get-go. His wiry, compact frame delivers spot-on comic timing, playing the foible to his straight-laced fiancée. O’Malley hovers over him by a few inches and the subtle height difference is a small but charming casting detail that emphasizes Jack’s submissive sensibilities. Tony Danza woos the audience with his flashy grin and an unexpected tap dance number, but his whispery vocals would have Sinatra rolling in his grave. I imagine sound designers Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy had to add an extra dial to the soundboard to make the Golden Globe-nominated actor audible to anyone beyond the second row.
In an unsuccessful adaptation from the original film, Mahi (originally played by Pat Morita), is recast as a sweet-natured prostitute (Catherine Ricafort) who tries to steer the pursuing groom off track through sexual innuendo and an over-choreographed number, “Friki-Friki.” It feels unnecessarily desperate in a show that otherwise clips along. That being said, the ensemble delivers bundles of quirky character cameos that bristle with charm, including lounge singer Buddy Rocky (David Josefsberg) and a trio of ticket agents (Tracee Beazer, Gaelen Gilliland, and George Merrick) whose “Airport Song” might gently remind Sondheim fans of “You Could Drive a Person Crazy.”
Director Gary Griffin (The Color Purple) staged the original production at Paper Mill Playhouse and much of the same cast returns for the Broadway engagement. The performances still feel fresh and his keen eye allows the actors to play to their strengths. Honeymoon in Vegas is a charmer in a Broadway season that has yet to find its groove. Rocky times may be ahead with an onslaught of new musicals opening later this spring, but every marriage has its bumps. Here’s hoping Honeymoon in Vegas celebrates many anniversaries to come.
Honeymoon in Vegas
208 West 41st Street
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.