I hadn’t been to the Nederlander, the theatre that is the furthest south in the neighborhood called “Broadway”, since Rent opened there in 1996. That musical stayed put for 12 years and was followed by a two year run of Newsies. Marching down the aisle to my 4th row seat at Honeymoon in Vegas, I was reminded at once of my many happy experiences in the last row of the balcony there when I was a kid attending Call Me Mister, The Corn is Green, The Patriots, Lend An Ear. The mezzanine Men’s Room reminded me of the agonizing time we all had during the 1962 nine week run of John Kander’s first musical, A Family Affair, during which I spent considerable time as the authors’ agent, as well as the producer’s cousin, splashing cold water on my face to keep calm.
Now the Nederlander plays host to the musical Honeymoon in Vegas, with a score by Jason Robert Brown and a book by Andrew Bergman, based on the 1992 movie of the same name. The theatre is oddly shaped. It’s not particularly large – and is suitable for plays as well as musicals.
For some reason the stage has been raised, so orchestra seats require you to look up at all times. Many of us accepted the raised seat cushions offered by the management and they helped keep our cervical muscles and nerves under control. The overture, played by a large band with lots of brass in it, worried me a little, for it looked like something on the stage of the Paramount or Strand movie theatres when first run houses offered stage shows between screenings of their current feature. They played well and got a big hand, but the music itself didn’t in any way resemble material that might later be used to tell a story.
Once the show began and Rob McClure came forward to tell us in song that “I Love Betsy” I knew we were moving rapidly into musical comedy time. And once again my mind flashed back to the 1940s when fluffy tales of comic romance were the rage and I wandered into thoughts of Early to Bed (380 performances in 1943-44)), Ankles Aweigh (176 performances in 1955) , Follow the Girls (888 performances in 1944-46), other second tier musicals of that period that enjoyed successful runs with nothing on their minds but light hearted entertainment. Other shows that were not particularly distinguished were hits too, but they boasted the brightest lights on Broadway on their marquees — Ethel Merman in Panama Hattie and Something for the Boys, Danny Kaye in Let’s Face It!, Bobby Clark in Mexican Hayride and As the Girls Go, all vehicles of no particular distinction for very distinctive over-the-title stars.
Now along comes Honeymoon in Vegas, at a time when that sort of mindless entertainment is no longer readily available, and by some is considered totally out of tune with the times. The crowd with which I saw it would heartily disagree. Loud guffaws surrounded me all through the show, and for those who want their musicals light and fluffy, for those who are not terribly interested in logic or subtext or melody, this could indeed be the surprise winner of the season.
Everything about it is agreeable. Rob McClure who carried last season’s Chaplin on his talented shoulders, once again proves himself a lovable off-beat leading man, something like the young Bob Hope with a better voice. Tony Danza, playing the other third of the triangle in this tale of three cornered love, though technically not a dancer, singer or farceur, does well in all three categories, and his fans from television became slightly hysterical when he burst into a full tap routine, for they’d never seen him do that before.The man from “Taxi” and “Who’s the Boss?” singing and dancing? Most welcome, and well done.
Brynn O’Malley, the ‘leading lady’, has charm, good looks, and reminds me of so many of the leading ladies of the “George Abbott musicals,”,ladies like Joan Caulfield (Beat the Band), Marcy Wescott (Too Many Girls), Victoria Schools (Best Foot Forward)— none high wattage divas, but all very competent leading ladies who served very nicely, as does the attractive Ms. O’Malley. In Nancy Opel, Honeymoon has the character comedienne that all musical comedies must have — she brings to mind Nancy Walker in Best Foot Forward), Alice Pearce (in On the Town) , Kay Medford (in Bye,Bye Birdie)– and Ms. Opel unearths and delivers lots of laughs as Rob McClure’s mother-from-hell.
Jason Robert Brown’s score is serviceable and amiable and he proves adept at lyric writing as well. Dealing with a world not unlike that of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls, it’s not in the same ballpark, but there are melodies here and there, and lyrics in other places, that are ear-catching and easy to take. Honeymoon in Vegas unfortunately comes in the tenth decade of the ascendancy of musical theatre in America. Had it been produced in 1943 I think its score would have attracted such kudos as “Devilishly funny”, and “Just what the Dr. ordered” and other lovely words attributed to some of those shows I’ve mentioned herein that benefited from them.
I think today’s audiences will have a good time rooting for these amiable and talented performers and won’t worry too much about the fact that the material is not a world winner. Gary Griffin, director, and Denis Jones, choreographer, have staged it all tidily and now and again with comic flair, and a very agreeable company has delivered it with enthusiasm, talent and commitment. For a theatre goer out for a fun evening, even though he or she may not remember it a week later, I think a honeymoon in Vegas is not a bad idea.
Honeymoon in Vegas is onstage at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 W 41st St (Btwn 7th & 8th Ave.), NYC.
Details and tickets
Richard Seff, Broadway performer, agent, playwright, librettist, columnist adds novelist to his string of accomplishments, with the publication of his first novel, TAKE A GIANT STEP. His first book, Supporting Player: My Life Upon the Wicked Stage, celebrates his lifetime on stage and behind the scenes. Both books are available through online booksellers, including Amazon.com.
He has also written the book to SHINE! The Horatio Alger Musical which was a triple prize winner at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF).
Each year, Actors Equity recognizes the year’s most outstanding supporting player with, appropriately enough, the Richard Seff Award.