January 16, 2015
What’s a girl to do when, just hours before her long-awaited marriage, some other guy tries to strong arm her into wedlock!
Such is the slim dilemma driving the sassy, flashy new musical comedy, “Honeymoon in Vegas.”
High-powered energy comes from the winning combination of the book by Andrew Bergman (“Blazing Saddles” and “Fletch”), and music and lyrics by Tony Award-winner Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County”). Directed with a firm hand by Gary Griffin, a glitzy, warmhearted production opened Thursday night on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre.
Bergman and Brown ‘s buoyantly cheesy production, adapted from a 1992 movie starring James Caan, Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker, combines retro musical flavors with contemporary rhymes. The bright score pays homage, with big-band and Rat-Pack flair, to a variety of pre-nuptial and Las Vegas clichés.
From the first notes of the accomplished overture, led by Tom Murray, the show feels confident and fun. Rob McClure (“Chaplin”), and Brynn O’Malley (“Annie” and “Wicked”) play Jack and Betsy, star-crossed Brooklyn lovers under a no-marriage curse from Jack’s deceased mother. Bravely deciding to get hitched anyhow, they rush to Las Vegas. There they encounter Tommy, (the irrepressible Tony Danza), a politely menacing gangster who plots to take Betsy for himself because she looks exactly like his dead wife.
Danza, best known for TV shows “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss,” was previously on Broadway as Max Bialystock in “The Producers.” In “Vegas,” he exudes charisma and athletic charm as a suave wiseguy. He easily compensates for his gravelly singing voice with seemingly limitless energy, and his onstage enjoyment is infectious, whether he’s blending with the skilled ensemble or smartly executing a smooth, solo tap dance.
McClure is a treat as clueless, nebbishy Jack, creating an appealing chemistry with O’Malley’s lovely, clear-eyed Betsy. Their solos and duets are charming, as McClure sings “I Love Betsy” and later, O’Malley plaintively sings “Waiting for You.” Another standout number has McClure and Danza singing “A Little Luck,” with each character holding an opposing view of what that actually means.
The young lovers are divided by increasingly outlandish circumstances, which include Nancy Opel riotously popping up everywhere as the nagging ghost of Bea, Jack’s disapproving mother. Tommy also spirits Betsy off to Hawaii, leading Jack to experience the horrors of relentlessly cheerful but unhelpful airport and resort staff.
It’s Vegas, baby, so statuesque, sequined showgirls in flamingo pink repeatedly strut their stuff, and giant playing cards swoop around the stage during a poker game. Matthew Saldivar is great fun as Tommy’s not-so-bright sidekick, Johnny Sandwich, and David Josefberg lends brio to two different showbiz huckster archetypes.
A big scene in a cargo plane showcases Denis Jones’ whimsical choreography and the audacious scenic design of Anna Louizos. A troupe of glittery Flying Elvises jauntily line-dances across the stage while singing “Higher Love,” a rollicking homage to The King, and they try to inspire Jack to jump out of the plane with their catchy refrain, “Jump, jump. Jumpety-jump!”
Subtlety is in short supply, obviously, and some of the comedy is deliberately tasteless, but it’s all in fun. Tommy’s wife Donna died of skin cancer, so one of Danza’s biggest numbers, “Out of the Sun,” is a comical lament about letting her overtan, “roasting like a chicken in her chair.” Catherine Ricafort, adorably playing a deceitful Hawaiian tour guide, tries to seduce Jack by rolling all over him while singing a cringingly funny song, “Friki-Friki.”
With its exuberant spirit and Brown’s classy score, “Honeymoon in Vegas” is truly a winning musical.