We gave it a B+
It should be noted straight away—Flying Elvises aside, there?s virtually no one out there who considers the 1992 film Honeymoon in Vegas to be one of the brightest spots in film comedy in the last bunch of decades. It has its moments, and features fun performances from the likes of Nicolas Cage, James Caan and a pre-Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker, but a revisit has never seemed terribly imperative. So it’s a great surprise that the large-scale musical version of said property is a frothy delight, a pineapple-sweet warm-up in this most frigid season.
After a well-received 2013 run at Paper Mill Playhouse, Honeymoon boasts the same team for its Broadway bow, led by librettist (and the film’s writer/director) Andrew Bergman and composer Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years)—a seemingly incongruous pair on paper, but a surprisingly synergistic one in practice. The setup is much the same: Jack Singer (Rob McClure) is a skittish New Yorker who stalls on popping the question to his beauteous girlfriend Betsy (Brynn O’Malley), because of an assumed curse on marriage brought upon by his now-deceased momma (Nancy Opel, in a mother of a comic turn).
In a rare brave moment, Jack decides they should jet off to Las Vegas to get hitched, and when smooth gangster Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) gets a glimpse of Betsy upon arrival—she’s a doppelgänger for his late wife—he attempts to woo her via Jack, going so far as to rig a poker game, leaving hapless Jack in the black nearly $60K. When Betsy reluctantly agrees to accompany Tommy on a weekend Hawaiian retreat to pay off Jack’s debt (sans hanky panky), her sad-sack intended makes great waves to get her back. Even it takes a few Flying Elvises.
There is updating present here (Shake Shack, cell phones), but generally the show’s creators aim for the elan of a classical musical comedy, with no reticence about getting a little down-and-dirty (a sample lyric: ”You might be in the desert/But a girl can still get wet”). Director Gary Griffin, scenic designer Anna Louizos and costumer Brian Hemesath leave no set piece or wardrobe switcheroo unturned (literally—Jack’s mother appears everywhere), and the production meets at just the right intersection of garish and glitzy. The loose vibe seems to have extended to composer Jason Robert Brown, concocting a jaunty score quite unlike his more contemplative, romantic works of late.
Vegas has its share of missteps—a few clunker lines, a still-slightly-sexist undertone (no doubt a remnant of early ’90s cinema), and what has to be the only showtune in history about skin cancer. But a gifted, generous cast puts the entire affair over. O’Malley (often a dead-ringer for Bridesmaids-era Rose Byrne) is a treat and allows Betsy a few extra layers to undercut the unsavory premise, and same goes for Danza, who’s admittedly not a knockout vocalist (and whose brief tap number feels like a variety-show outtake), but is enormously winning nonetheless, certainly more so than Caan ever was in the role. The Who’s the Boss star even believably varies Tommy’s demeanor in Act II to deflate the character’s increasing (and slightly contrived) villainy, which is no easy feat.
But Vegas‘s jackpot component is McClure. Anyone who saw his glorious, Tony-worthy turn in 2012’s Chaplin knows that he’s a master mimic, but his sincere, alert comic timing and rubberman persona constantly keeps the production on its toes—he’s the veritable, lovable bull in this fitfully funny china shop. B+