By Karen Isaacs
If you want a totally silly musical that appeals to the proverbial “tired businessman” while also appealing to Tony Danza fans and those of the movie of the same name, Honeymoon in Vegas will provide an enjoyable evening’s entertainment. But like some treats, you may soon be hungry for something more.
The new musical at the Nederlander Theatre follows the plot of the successful film comedy closely. We meet Jack Singer and Betsy Nolan. They have been dating for years and Betsy is getting tired of waiting for the proposal. But Jack has a problem; his mother made him give a death bed promise to never marry and keeps popping up to remind him of it. After Betsy’s implied threat to leave, he impulsively decides they should leave NYC and head to Vegas to get married.
Cut to Vegas and a typical emcee/entertainer. Also, returning to Vegas is Tommy Korman, an older gambler. Tommy sees Betsy and finds a remarkable resemblance to his late wife for whom he is still in mourning. So he decides to invite Jack to a poker game.
You can probably guess what happens next. Jack ends up losing much more than he can possibly pay off (the mid-five figures). Tommy makes him a proposition: Let Tommy spend a platonic weekend with Betsy and the debt will be forgiven. Betsy is not happy with the idea but agrees to a meeting with Tommy. The act ends with Betsy agreeing to the plan and Tommy springing the fact that he will take her to his plush house in Hawaii. Tommy plans to woo Betsy and get her to marry him.
If you think act one is improbably, just wait until you get to act two! Betsy and Tommy are in Hawaii and Betsy is certainly impressed with Tommy’s attention, treatment and lush lifestyle. The fact that his son, daughter-in-law and new grandson show up is also a plus for Betsy, who feels her biological clock ticking. Jack is scheming to get to the islands but Tommy and his henchman are putting many roadblocks in the way. He finally arrives just as Tommy and Betsy are flying back to Vegas — on Tommy’s private jet, of course — to get married.
The solution for Jack to get back to Vegas and win Betsy’s hand, as well as to prove himself to his mother involves a group of flying Elvis’ (Elvis impersonators are a must in any show about Vegas) and a parachute jump. Let’s just say it all ends happily.
Andrew Bergmann has adapted his film script, and the very talented Jason Robert Brown has provided the music and lyrics. Brown has captured the Vegas idiom in music — much of it sounds like an old Ed Sullivan Show — in a good sense. It has that delightful “tackiness” of Vegas. Yet, I did not leave the theater humming any of the tunes, nor do Jack and Betsy have a really great love song. The best love song is for Tommy and Betsy, “You Made the Wait Worthwhile.” BUT — I really do want to hear the original cast CD; I suspect the score will grow on me.
Director Gary Griffin has kept it moving and has accepted the musical for what it is — silly fun. Choreographer Denis Jones has added appropriate Vegas style dances and made room for Tony Danza to tap — even if it does seem somehow an “add on.”
Which brings us to the cast. Rob McClure is fine as Jack. He is a multi-talented performer who can charm an audience. He does the “heavy lifting” in this show. Brynn O’Malley as Betsy is attractive and can sing and dance. The problem is a lack of chemistry between the two. It just didn’t feel as though they were a longtime couple with a deep love for each other. Tony Danza has both the look for the gambler Tommy and an odd charm. His face doesn’t reveal a great deal of emotion but that seems appropriate for the character. Despite his manipulations, you feel for this character. There is something about his love and yearning for his dead wife that is endearing and Danza brings that out.
Nancy Opel is a hoot as Jack’s mother — from the hilarious death bed scene to her other multiple appearances. David Josefsberg, Matthew Saldivar and Catherine Ricafort turn in fine performances as a typical Vegas singer, Tommy’s sidekick, and a Hawaiian “distraction” to Jack.
The production is enhanced by the flexible scenic design by Anna Louizos which relies heavily on projections, costumes by Brian Hemesath, lighting by Howell Binkley and sound design by Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy.
If Honeymoon in Vegas did wow me, it did provide an enjoyable evening of tuneful, colorful and silly entertainment. Sometimes that is what we need.
Honeymoon in Vegas is at the Nederlander Theater on West 41st Street. Tickets are available through ticketmaster.com