February 7, 2015

"Honeymoon in Vegas" Deserves More Love

The new musical Honeymoon in Vegas has been doing terrible business. It’s playing to audiences that are barely three-quarters full and most of those folks have gotten such heavily discounted tickets that the show is taking in less than a third of what it should. 

And that’s a shame because Honeymoon in Vegas is the kind of old-fashioned song-and-dance show that people so often think of when they think of Broadway. It may not be groundbreaking but it does provide some good-natured fun.

Based on the 1992 movie of the same name, it's a romcom about a nice guy who made a deathbed promise to his mother that he would never marry; the longtime girlfriend he nervously takes to Vegas to wed; and an older professional gambler who goes after the bride-to-be because she reminds him of his late wife. Also involved are some Hawaiian tiki gods and a bunch of Elvis impersonators (hey, it’s Vegas).

Andrew Bergman, who wrote the original screenplay, has teamed up with the endlessly versatile composer Jason Robert Brown (click here to watch a concert he recently did on PBS) and they’ve created a show that has the look (leggy chorus girls and flashy production numbers) sound (catchy Bacharach-era pop and Sinatra-style ballads) and feel (PG-rated jokes and upbeat optimism) of musicals like Sweet Charity and Promises, Promises.

Brown’s score isn’t in the same category as the Tony-winning one he did for last season's The Bridges of Madison County (whose premature demise I’m still lamenting) but it’s perfect for this show. The lyrics are clever and the melodies hummable. If the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce isn’t negotiating to make Brown’s “When You Say Vegas,” the city’s theme song, it isn’t doing its job.

The show has some winning performances too. Rob McClure, so terrific a couple of seasons ago as the title character in Chaplin, is every bit as good here as Jack, the would-be groom. 

McClure is nowhere near as manic as Nicolas Cage was in the movie (who could be?) but he sings, dances and clowns around with infectious enthusiasm. 

But the real marquee name is Tony Danza, the beloved TV star who brings his real-guy charisma to the role of Tommy, the gambler played onscreen by James Caan. 

Tommy is a tricky part because the character does some underhanded things to woo Jack’s beloved and yet he needs to be charming enough to make it believable that she might consider going off with him. 

Danza’s innate likability and vulnerability keep the audience on his side.  In addition to crooning tunes and doing a little soft shoe onstage, Danza has been going all out to promote the show, even working the line at TKTS (click here to read an interview with him).

Director Gary Griffin does his part by surrounding Danza, McClure and the rest of their 24-member cast with a whirlwind of activity. And the design team looks to be having a particularly good time. 

Brian Hemesath’s over-the-top costumes provide one sight gag after another (click here to read a profile of him). Meanwhile, Anna Louizos’s roll-on sets and video projections move the show in cinematic fashion from Brooklyn to Vegas to Hawaii, with appropriately garish panache.

Sounds like a winning show, doesn’t it? Well alas, Honeymoon in Vegas lacks the edginess, irony or smuttiness that seem to be the dominant flavors of the day, unless a show is a revival of one of those old feel-good musicals that we’re always saying don’t get made any more. Except, of course, that this time, it did. 

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