Honeymoon in Vegas

There's an overture! And an entr'acte! Neither is a mainstay of musicals these days, but composer Jason Robert Brown put them both in his new musical, Honeymoon in Vegas. (The orchestra is on stage throughout the show, though they're often hidden by scenery. For the overture and entr'acte, they are moved to center stage, and the players are dressed according to the setting. Love this.) It is a slick and polished musical comedy. The plot is silly, but that was true of the movie upon which it's based. (Andrew Bergman wrote the screenplay; he adapted his work and wrote the book for this musical.) It's decent splash, the kind of glitzy, superficial musical that isn't generally my taste. Honeymoon in Vegas doesn't change that, but it's well done. Mostly.

The action revolves around Jack (Rob McClure) and Betsy (Brynn O'Malley). They've been together for five years, but Jack can't bring himself to pop the question because of lingering guilt from a promise he made his dying mother (Nancy Opel) on her deathbed: she made Jack promise he would never marry. Jack finally decides it's now or never, and he and Betsy jet off to Vegas to get married. Complications arise, however, when a high-rolling conman, Tommy (Tony Danza), spots Betsy, who's a dead ringer for Tommy's deceased wife. Ulterior motives in tow, Tommy invites Jack to a poker game. When Jack loses big time and can't pay the debt, Tommy offers to forgive the debt if he can spend the weekend with Betsy. It's sort of the like slapstick comedy cousin of Indecent Proposal.

The silliness aside, the real treat in this otherwise humdrum show is Brynn O'Malley. O'Malley (Annie) has a beautiful voice. It doesn't shriek, she doesn't "screlt"; it's just a lovely, smooth voice. In O'Malley's care, Betsy is strong and patient, far from a doe-eyed ingenue. O'Malley has been doing good supporting work years, and it's nice to see her step into the leading lady role.

Her on stage partner, Rob McClure (Chaplin), is just right for this role because he's sort of the stage equivalent to Tom Hanks: good looking enough but not hunky (like, say, Steven Pasquale, who was the lead in Brown's last musical). McClure is a regular, average looking guy with an everyman quality to him. He's not a smooth charmer, which makes it easier for audiences to identify with the character, and McClure plays the broad, goofy comedy well.

Both O'Malley and McClure have some nice moments in Brown's score. The show opens with the jaunty "I Love Betsy," (fun staging by choreography Denis Jones, incorporating Kathy Fabian and Propstar's colorful props), in which Jack sets the scene, and later Betsy finally gets to sing, "Betsy's Getting Married." Of course, Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges of Madison County) is a skilled genre writer, so "When You Say Vegas," performed by a Vegas lounge singer, is appropriately cheesy. When the story shifts to Hawaii, so does the score, but with so many pastiche numbers, the score lacks identity and there are hardly any standout gems. (Nothing will compare to "It All Fades Away.")

Unfortunately, even the songs that are set up to be knock outs don't pack much of a punch, and that's because Tony Danza doesn't have the vocal prowess to sell the big numbers. He's having fun, but I can see the effort he's putting in to trying to be a showman. Take, for example, his "11 o'clock" number in act two. He starts off singing in the scene, then he steps downstage center; the curtain descends behind him and he starting soft-shoeing. I expected the curtain to rise to reveal a bevy of beautiful women tap dancing in support, something to warrant the curtain going down and something to pick up his droll hoofing. But that didn't happen. The number limped along, making me yearn for a real showman, like Norbert Leo Butz (a little young for the role but still...).

That's sort of the theme of the show. I kept waiting for it to get great, and it just didn't. There are plenty of fun moments (the flying Elvis number, "Higher Love," is a pretty good production number), and it will likely leave you feeling up beat (especially when the terrific orchestra plays you out). There's a great supporting cast, a versatile, hard-working ensemble that moves as fluidly as the staging and scenic design (direction is by Gary Griffin and scenic + projection design is by Anna Louizos).

But still, nothing in this truly grabs me. Big, broad musical comedies are not the norm today. We don't get many Guys and Dolls; instead, we mostly have smaller musicals; musicals that deal with more serious subject matter or with similar subject matter more seriously. There's room enough for all kinds of musicals, but this just doesn't reach its full potential.