by David Lally · January 24, 2015
Matthew Saldivar, Tony Danza, David Josefsberg | Joan Marcus
If you still haven’t resigned yourself to the idea of the moviecal (musicals made from films), they are here to stay and seem to be what the Broadway theatergoing audience wants these days. The latest movie to musical transition, Honeymoon in Vegas opened last week at the Nederlander Theatre. It’s charming, cute and very good as long as you put your mind on auto-pilot.
First of all, the premise of both the movie and the musical is a bit silly. A dying mother pleads with her son, Jack, to never get married in order to prove that she is his only love. She goes so far as to put a curse on him, ultimately making him scared to walk down the aisle with his girlfriend, Betsy. Despite his mother appearing to him after death, he decides to take the plunge and convinces Betsy to elope to Vegas. When they arrive they are spotted by gambler Tommy Korman, who sees Betsy as a dead ringer for his dearly-departed wife. From there on, complications ensue as Tommy decides he wants Betsy for his wife and sets up Jack to take a fall.
The major thing lacking in this production, however, is cleverness. It is a musical very dumbed down for what producers seem to think is today's audience.
Librettist Andrew Bergman has adapted his movie script to fit the stage and I heard there were only slight modifications along the way. But the major premise is a bit weak and it is not helped by having Jack’s mother being dead for 10 years. Nancy Opel, who is absolutely wonderful as the mother, makes an entrance early on (and what an entrance it is) to set up the premise, but because the author has decided she died so long ago, the curse doesn’t seem very immediate. It isn’t helped at all by the fact that this plot point is largely forgotten until the eleventh hour, leaving a gem like Ms. Opel very underutilized.
My theatre companion for the evening, who is not a musical aficionado, enjoyed himself, but mentioned that there seemed to be a lot more singing than in most musicals and not enough acting. I noticed it as well and barely two minutes go by between songs. You are either going to love that or hate that and I found myself somewhere in the middle. Though the material is covered quite well in the songs, I kept wondering where those stand-alone songs were – you know, the ones that can live outside of a musical and be sung by the likes of Barbra Streisand, Michael Buble or Tony Bennett. There are really none of those in the show as the songs are all dedicated to forwarding the plot. It’s a shame because I wanted to leave the theatre humming some songs but found once I left the theatre I forgot almost all of them, only remembering a few for their subject matter, like the song Tony Danza sings about his dead wife, “Out Of The Sun”, a big highlight.
Not that the songs by Jason Robert Brown were bad. There were several charming numbers, including the opener “I Love Betsy” and the title song, but characters tended to sing at the drop of a hat here and some of those songs weren’t really necessary and clocking in at 2 ½ hours, dialogue could have covered the same ground a lot more quickly.
Thanks to today’s theatre technology, set designer Anna Louizos was able to whisk us from New York to Vegas to Hawaii and back again to Vegas. Using a combination of set pieces and projections, each and every set was stunning. I’m not sure if this is a downfall with musicals adapted from movies, but I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of set changes. Like the songs, every two minutes we were being whisked away to somewhere else. The choreography by Denis Jones was fun – I just wish there was more of it as the musical relied more on intimate songs either with one character or between two characters so big numbers were few and far between.
Let me take a moment to point out that if you have any trepidation about seeing Tony Danza as Tommy Korman, sing and dance (tap dancing, no less) on stage, let me assuage your fears. Mr. Danza acquits himself quite well. He has a very sweet tone to his voice that, with some more training, could be very good. But luckily the show doesn’t rise and fall on his singing abilities and so the audience reaction is more of an “Awwwww…” when he sings, which really doesn’t matter because Mr. Danza has so much stage charisma and is obviously having a ball up on stage.
As for the other two leads, Rob McClure as Jack and Brynn O’Malley as Betsy, they also are excellent, as well as the supporting characters of Matthew Saldivar as Johnny Sandwich and David Josefsberg as Buddy Rocky. Really, everyone is great but it can’t make up for a show that, at its core, relies too much on cute and charming and not very clever. But maybe that is what Broadway audiences want. And who am I to argue with them?