Friday, 28 November 2014

HONEYMOON IN VEGAS by Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman

     HONEYMOON IN VEGAS is an old-fashioned Broadway musical comedy on steroids. Everything is too loud, and most of the cast is working too hard to "sell" this show. There's almost an air of desperation about it. In other words, it is too much like Las Vegas. There's an overture with the band front and center on stage amid a lot of colored lights. The overture is trying to be a version of the overture to GYPSY, the best Broadway overture ever written, but this overture is so loudly miked than even in the 6th row, I could not hear live sound from a fifteen piece band. The opening number, "I Love Betsy", is tuneful and clever, but there's so much scenery changing and bad choreography (in general, the choreography is one cliche after another), that it is difficult to pay attention to what is a good song. In general the ensemble is allowed to engage in a shameful amount of amateurish mugging and, far be it for me of all people to say it, but some of the gentlemen of the ensemble behave as if they are in a Howard Crabtree musical.
     I had never seen the film on which the show is based (I'm allergic to Nicholas Cage). The book Andrew Bergman has crafted from the movie is sporadically funny. We've seen the monster mother bit many times before (think BYE BYE BIRDIE, where it was much funnier), but this mom has been dead for years and still haunts our hero, Jack Singer (Rob McClure). Jack would like to marry his sweetheart Betsy (Brynn O'Malley), but thanks to Mom, he has panic attacks. When they go to Las Vegas to get married, ace gambler Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) thinks Betsy is the spitting image of his beloved late wife and hatches an elaborate scheme to steal her from Jack. The problem with Bergman's book is that it would be funnier, and Tommy a funnier character, if the audience were in on his plot. The show sticks to Jack and Betsy's point of view, so the big moments don't land the way they should. I was shocked to look at my watch at the end of Act I and see that it was less than 70 minutes long. It seemed much longer. The second act needs editing.
     On the whole, Jason Robert Brown's score is tuneful and masterful. He's best at the book numbers, weakest at his imitation of old time Vegas floor show numbers. It's great to have a show with virtually no reprises, but the best songs occur early in the show. We all know he's the best lyricist working now, except for someone with the initials S.S., who hasn't written a new show in ages.
    Rob McClure really carries the show. He's a charming stage presence, he sings effectively, he has excellent comic timing and he moves well. Most important, he has personality. In the old days, he would be a Broadway star. Alas, that doesn't mean anything now. Tony Danza does the laid back Dean Martinish schtick. He's not much of a singer and he fakes his way through a short tap routine. The problem is, he's not funny enough, not enough of a comic foil to McClure's Jack. Danza walks amiably through the show. That isn't totally Danza's part -- the book and the direction don't help him. Brynn O'Malley is OK -- there's no unique personality there, just a competent performer going through all the motions.
     There's lots of pretty, old-fashioned painted scenery (Anna Louizos). Gary Griffin certainly keeps everything moving, but it's all a bit frenetic. There's nothing original in his direction, no sign of a unique vision, just the old "faster, louder."
     After reading Ben Brantley's rave review of HONEYMOON IN VEGAS's Paper Mill Playhouse tryout, I thought I had to see this one. I didn't see the same funny, masterful show he did. Maybe the suburban air of Millburn, New Jersey weakened Brantley's critical faculties. Then again, I've recently liked two musicals he didn't like.
HONEYMOON IN VEGAS. Nederlander Theatre. November 28, 2014.

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