Judging by the audience reaction to the Opening Night performance of “Honeymoon in Vegas,” it might be fair to say that the Paper Mill Playhouse has found a hit to launch their 75th Anniversary Season. It appeared as though the audience had hit a theatrical jackpot and appreciation was evident Sunday night as "Honeymoon in Vegas" celebrated its Opening Night in grand style. This show is a real winner. It has good music, a tremendous cast, very clever staging and special effects. It's a show that combines music and humor with a heart warming story in an audience-friendly package.
The ample sized stage of the Paper Mill gets fully utilized throughout the show. It was nice to have a full orchestra play an Overture at the start of the show and after Intermission. They were on a moveable platform that allowed them to be front and center and then in the background or brought forward as needed in certain scenes throughout the entire show. Many of the songs were a swing-type style which gave rise to a gorgeous horn section and fabulous piano playing. Much of the score makes you feel like you are in Las Vegas reminding some of the Rat Pack days of old.
The play tells the story of Jack Singer (Rob McClure) who says right at the start of the show that he loves Betsy (Brynn O’Malley). He wants to get married but he cannot overcome the promise he made to his mother (Nancy Opel) on her deathbed that he would never marry as a sign of how much he loved mom. On the spur of the moment, Jack asks Betsy to elope with him to Vegas. As soon as they arrive, Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), a professional gambler, tells his sidekick Johnny Sandwich (Matt Saldivar) that Betsy reminds him of his dead wife who he loved dearly. A plot is hatched and Jack falls victim easily in a set-up card game where in order to pay the money he owes Tommy, he agrees to let Betsy visit with Tommy for the weekend. The "arrangement" agreement is that it will be all above boards, no hanky panky! But of course, Tommy wants to make Betsy his new wife.
What ensues and leads to the conclusion, with a very happy ending, is one funny scene after another. Staging and lighting has been carefully planned to allow a wide range of action to take place on stage. We leave a park in Brooklyn complete with a food truck and next see an orchestra, show girls and singer Tony Rocker (David Josefsberg) welcoming everyone to Las Vegas. A beautiful tropical setting in Hawaii provides the backdrop for Tommy and Betsy’s weekend get together. At the same time, the front of the stage equipped with a trap door brings up a triple airline seat allowing us to see Jack flying out to Hawaii trying to find his bride. Some of the funniest action takes place when the stage transforms into the inside of a cargo plane where the flying Elvises, a group of Elvis impersonators, allow Jack to hop aboard their plane in preparation for their “arrival” on the ground in Las Vegas. The special stage effects for that scene alone are worth seeing.
The music, staging, and humorous script all make for a great show. But the cast that has been assembled for this show is absolutely superb! Show leads include Tony Danza, Rob McClure, and Brynn O’Mally. Mr. Danza is a total class act on stage. He plays his role of Tommy as a gangster style character with a soft side when it comes to love in his life in such a manner that you just can’t get mad at him. He sings with great sincerity and even does a tap/soft shoe number that brings the house down. Rob McClure moves between the confident Jack and the commitment phobic Jack with total ease. His singing is so smooth to listen to and his comedic timing and actions are inspired. Brynn O’Malley is a lovely actress who sings beautifully and convinces the audience that she truly loves her Jack despite all the silly things he has done over the years. Her liaison with Tommy allows her to display both interest and reluctance at the same time with nice balance.
The music and lyrics are by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown with Thomas Murray providing music direction for the show. The production is directed by Gary Griffin and choreography is by Denis Jones. The book is by Andrew Bergman. "Honeymoon in Vegas" is based on the motion picture of the same title, which Mr. Bergman directed and was the screenwriter.
Honeymoon in Vegas will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday until October 27, 2013. Tickets are on sale now and range from $27 to $98 and they may be purchased by calling 973.376.4343, at the Paper Mill Playhouse Box Office at 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, or online at www.papermill.org.
To see a few pictures from the red carpet and after party, visit www.letsgotothetheater/wordpress.com.