January 16, 2015
To say a new musical-comedy could have been written anytime in the last 50 years should sound like an insult. Forget that. To observe, yet again, that most movie adaptations make uninspired musicals is to repeat much recent Broadway history. Not this time.
“Honeymoon in Vegas,” based on the 1992 film, is an unexpectedly delightful, thoroughly conventional movie spinoff that isn’t hard-selling anything more than a good time created by experts. Tony Danza, no joke, is a pro. Even the sky-diving Elvis impersonators are charming.
Part of the success must be traced to Hollywood comedy veteran Andrew Bergman, who adapted the book from the movie he wrote and directed starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan. And director Gary Griffin (“The Color Purple”) has an inventive idea for every location-hopping improbable moment without losing the show’s easygoing likability.
And then there is the supper-club jazzy/old-time Broadway score by Jason Robert Brown — a genuine chameleon whose pop-relationship show, “The Last Five Years,” is due out as an Anna Kendrick movie, whose seriously heartbreaking “Parade” is the subject of an all-star gala next month and whose luscious, high-romantic music for “The Bridges of Madison County” just won a Tony.
Here he writes new songs that seem as if they ought to be old-time brassy standards, except for the nonstop-clever, up-to-the-minute lyrics for outrageous farce and sweet ballads. All are performed by an ace onstage orchestra that slides into view for the Vegas nightclub.
Rob McClure (“Chaplin”) is virtuosically understated as Jack, a nice Brooklyn guy who loves Betsy, a nice schoolteacher, embodied by Brynn O’Malley with down-to-earth slinkiness. But his long-dead mother (Nancy Opel) keeps popping up — in a Tiffany display case, in the Garden of the Disappointed Mothers — to remind him of his deathbed promise never to marry.
So they elope to Vegas, where Tommy, a not-so-nice gangster (Danza, who even taps), thinks Betsy looks exactly like his late love, who died of melanoma — yes, this is still a comedy — from too much desert sun. Jack loses Betsy in a fixed poker game. Chorus girls display his cards. Tommy flies Betsy to Hawaii, etc., etc. Griffin and choreographer Denis Jones keep the antics on the bright side of foolishness. Set designer Anna Louizos breezes us from city to city, Brooklyn streets to the hotel’s Sinatra Suite with wit and pop-up surprises, while Brian Hemesath’s costumes even put maternal grimaces on Hawaiian totem poles.
Despite all these original spins on a familiar brand, the show has not been selling during previews. Perhaps it will now.