Honeymoon in Vegas
With musical adaptations of popular films like Diner, The First Wives Club, Ever After, and Waitress all eyeing Broadway runs, it's still a surprise that Honeymoon in Vegas, which opened this evening at the Nederlander Theatre, made it to the top of the pack. The film was released in 1992 to lukewarm reviews and since has faded into cultural obscurity. Nonetheless, for a property that seems to have been pulled from the bottom of a pile of dusty VHS tapes, Honeymoon in Vegas has been given the full Broadway makeover and transformed into an undeniably delightful new musical — and still qualifies for PG-13 status to boot.
The crowd-pleasing Vegas milieu may very well have been part of the film's initial Broadway appeal. Yet the show's creative team has remained mercifully light-handed with the Vegas aesthetic, even through its transition to the Nederlander from the more modest stage of New Jersey's Paper Mill Playhouse where it made its debut last year. Anna Louizos has embellished upon her initial set design, adding more details as the stage transforms from a Tiffany jewelers to a Vegas hotel to a Hawaiian paradise with the help of elaborate projections. Costume designer Brian Hemesath has also upped his game with the plethora of showgirl outfits and Elvis costumes that have inevitably made their way into the production. Even with these more Broadway-friendly additions, the musical's new upscale setting fortunately has not opened the floodgates for unnecessary props and set pieces. Though that certainly would scream "Las Vegas," Honeymoon in Vegas — director Gary Griffin's musical rendering, at least — is far more a jazzy homage to Sin City's Frank Sinatra era than a staged version of The Hangover.
Jack Singer and Betsy Nolan (played by Rob McClure and Brynn O'Malley) are the quaint pair of lovers at the show's center. After five years of courtship, Betsy — a wholesome and infinitely patient schoolteacher — is ready for Jack to put a ring on it. Blissfully in love, the only thing that stands in the way of their traditional happy-ever-after is the curse of everlasting guilt left by Jack's mother (a hilariously self-effacing Nancy Opel), who, on her deathbed, made her son promise eternal bachelorhood. A burst of inspiration brings the couple to Las Vegas where they plan to quickly and painlessly seal the deal. However, in one final effort to stall the nuptials, Jack accepts an invitation to a low-stakes poker game, hosted by mobster Tommy Korman (Tony Danza). No surprise, the stakes are raised, and Betsy — who bears a striking resemblance to Korman's late wife — is thrown into the pot against her will and becomes the object of Korman's questionable affections.
While Danza holds the cast's most recognizable name (and wins over the crowd with his infectious smile and winning tap solo), McClure carries the show with effortless charm — not to mention the same spot-on physicality that earned him a Tony nomination for his performance as the title character in the 2012 musical Chaplin. Even with Jack's neurotic paranoia and tacky billiard-ball button-up, it's easy to see the charisma that kept his blonde bombshell of a girlfriend waiting five years for a proposal. He and O'Malley share a sweet onstage connection — nothing too smoldering, but just the right "aww" factor to satisfy the family-friendly crowd the show aims to please.
The same can be said for Jason Robert Brown's score (performed by music director Tom Murray's soulful onstage jazz band). The three-time Tony-winning composer is also one of Broadway's greatest chameleons with an uncanny ability to comfortably adapt his melodic voice to a breadth of musical genres (though if you listen closely you'll hear a few of his scores' signature piano flourishes).
Honeymoon in Vegas is no exception. But as opposed to Brown's score for the recent Bridges of Madison County, which allowed him to stretch his lyrical wings to their greatest lengths, in his snappy Vegas tunes the constraints are palpable. Still, he has built a collection of catchy melodies, infused with sharp lyrics that more often than not outwit original Honeymoon screenwriter Andrew Bergman's book. Betsy's early number "Anywhere But Here," in which she lays it all out for her noncommittal beau, is the best display of Brown's aptitude for musical storytelling. It also gives the abundantly charming O'Malley a little more to sink her teeth into, infusing a modicum of agency into an otherwise passive character, hell-bent on tying the knot and little else.
Overall, the forgotten film has yielded a thoroughly enjoyable Broadway musical, suited for audiences of all ages. Energetic choreography (by Denis Jones), colorful costumes and scenery, and a solid score complete the formula for a successful show. Yet oddly, this overwhelming agreeableness becomes Honeymoon in Vegas' biggest flaw. Like a ride down a lazy river, after a few minutes of smooth sailing, you start to ache for a little undertow.