From the moment the curtain rises on the Paper Mill Playhouse's large stage you are transported to the glitzy world of Las Vegas via the swinging sounds of a 14 member orchestra playing the overture. The setting and big band sound is so perfect you might forget where you are and even what decade (think the 1960's) it begs for Francis Albert Sinatra to make an entrance. For the next two hours you are in for a fun ride with charming and witty tunes, leggy showgirls, gorgeous costumes, impressive sets and a talented group of singers and dancers led by Tony Danza and Rob McClure.
The event is the world-premiere of a possibly Broadway-bound musical Honeymoon in Vegas. If the title is familiar it's because the show is based on the hit movie with Nicolas Cage. The Paper Mill Playhouse has launched its 75th Anniversary Season clearly in major league style.
This is a big, brassy, in-your face production. The multi-talented Danza is best remembered for the long running television series Taxi and Who’s the Boss? McClure, a Jersey boy, comes directly from his Tony nominated performance as Charlie Chaplin in Chaplin The Musical on Broadway. Tony Danza, now a trim 62 with a warm charming style, ably sings, dances and even plays the ukulele. He plays the wealthy gambler Tommy Korman (James Caan's part in the film).
McClure, a wonderful physical comedian with a fine voice, plays Jack Singer (the Cage part) a young New Yorker cursed to "never marry" by his late mother (10 years late!). But after five years of dating his beautiful fiancee Betsy (the perfectly charming Brynn O'Malley) is more than ready for a ring. Singer professes his feelings for Betsy in one of the best numbers "I Love Betsy." How could you not love a song with lines like: “I like dancing on the pier, I like Broadway (once a year), But I love Betsy! I like visits to the zoo, I like opera (that’s not true!), But I love Betsy!” This leads to one of the funniest scenes in the show.
With new-found courage to fight the curse, Jack and Betsy head to Tiffanys for the ring. But before they can make a selection, the ghost of his mother materializes to remind him of her death bed demand (or curse) that he never marry...."no woman could ever love you like your mother does!" This scene is simply hilarious with a show stopper turn by Broadway veteran Nancy Opel as Jack's mother Bea. It concludes with mother Bea and the large ensemble doing a wildly funny number "Never Get Married." Mother's plea, however, fails to stop the couple from deciding to get married ASAP. They decide to fly to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding chapel ceremony.
Enter Tony Danza as the sharply dressed gambler Tommy Korman. Korman, a widower, sees a woman in the lobby that appears to be a clone of his late wife. It is Betsy. To his disappointment he learns the reason she's in Vegas. Korman is determined to win Betsy and devises a unique, dishonest of course, plan to separate her from Jack long enough for him to convince her to drop Jack and become his bride. He rolls out an arsenal of devious tricks even to flying Betsy to Hawaii to meet his "family."
Hawaii provides the setting for two more show-stopper performances. The first is Raymond Lee's "Hawaii/ Waiting For You" number with Betsy, Jack and the ensemble. The second, is Catherine Ricafort hilarious as the Hawaiian girl who is driving Jack to Korman's house, but is determined to delay the journey with a little "Friki-Friki."
Back in Vegas, another very funny show-stopper turn is by David Josefsberg (the young comedy lead in last season's Lend Me A Tenor) as a Vegas lounge singer complete with Elvis suit. He returns in act two as the leader of the outrageously funny skydiving Elvis impersonators "The Flying Elvises"
Running interference for Tommy Korman is his all around assistant Johnny Sandwich ("I changed it from Focaccia") nicely played by Matthew Saldivar.
Rounding out the cast are: Matt Allen,Stanley Bahorek,Tracee Beazer, Grady McLeod Bowman, Barry Busby, Daniel J. Edwards, Paige Faure, Leslie Donna Flesner, Gaelen Gilliland, Sarah Marie Jenkins, Max Kumangai, George Merrick, Mara Newbery and Katie Webber.
Honeymoon in Vegas is pure, flashy, brassy fun. Tony Danza, Rob McClure and company get high marks for delivering a very entertaining, thoroughly enjoyable event. Next stop Broadway?
Major credit goes to the creative team: music and lyrics by Tony Award winner Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, Parade, 13); book by Andrew Bergman (director and screenwriter of the film); director Gary Griffin (The Color Purple); choreography by Denis Jones (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Damn Yankees, Smokey Joe’s Cafe,The Full Monty; and musical director Thomas Murray (Nice Work If You Can Get It, A Little Night Music and Sunday in the Park With George). Also scenic design Anna Louizos; costume design Brian Hemesath; lighting design Paul Miller; sound design Randy Hansen; hair & wig design Bettie O. Rogers; orchestrations Don Sebesky; and production stage manager Matthew DiCarl.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio October 6, 2013
Honeymoon in Vegas will play the Millburn, New Jersey theater through October 27. It will be performed eight times a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Performance Schedule: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm, Friday at 8:00 pm, Saturday at 1:30 pm and 8:00 pm and Sunday at 1:30 pm and 7:00 pm.
Tickets range from $27 to $98. Tickets 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. Groups of ten or more can receive up to a 40% discount on tickets and should call 973.315.1680.
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