By Barry Reszel
Imagine an early-this-century gathering of Broadway producer-types, huddled together, desperate to come up with the next commercially successful musical. Armed with the empowering-but-flawed “no idea is a bad idea” dictate of no-feelings-hurt brainstorming, someone suggests taking movie hits of the youngest baby boomers and turning them into musical theatre.
It worked before,” they agreed. “Lots of times. Look at 42nd Street. Consider State Fair. Why not?”
And so in recent years, patrons have been treated to Broadway and Broadway wanna-be musical renditions of (in no particular order)
The Wedding Singer
Little Miss Sunshine
and numerous others with
The Devil Wears Prada
The Flamingo Kid
and certainly many others, still to come
It’s a dang sub-genre, for crying out loud. But a word of warning to theatre-goers with high expectations who choose these shows for their known titles: For every The Producers, there are two Evil Deads. For each Newsies, there are multiple doozies. (Check out the Wikipedia list here.)
And so curious potential patrons of Marriott Theatre’s current production are right to ask the understandable question: Does this regional premiere of Honeymoon in Vegas, based on the 1992 Andrew Bergman movie starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan and a group of skydiving Elvises, and with music and lyrics by the talented Jason Robert Brown, deserve my entertainment time and dollar?
This reviewer’s answer is a qualified yes.
Despite its disappointing 3-month Broadway run headlined by TV icon Tony Danza in 2015 Brown’s original songbook of old-time Broadway stylings earned praise from New York critics. Ben Brantley‘s New York Times review said Brown’s music “seamlessly propel plot and define character in the way numbers did in the heyday of Rodgers and Hammerstein” and he called Honeymoon “a real-live, old-fashioned, deeply satisfying Broadway musical in a way few new shows are anymore.” Significant praise, indeed.
The current Lincolnshire iteration is led by much of the Broadway artistic team, including 10-time Jeff recipient Director Gary Griffin, Tony-nominated choreographer, Denis Jones, and award-winning Costume Designer Brian Hemesath. Musical Director Ryan T. Nelson and Conductor Patti Garwood oversee gorgeous musicianship of Brown’s score. Kevin Depinet’s excellent set design show off Anthony Churchill‘s truly lovely, almost 3-D projections.
The greatest nit with Honeymoon is with its (admittedly hilarious) simplistic plot. Dweeby mamma’s boy, Brooklynite Jack Singer, loves needy schoolteacher Betsy Nolan. Jack can’t propose to Betsy because, on her deathbed, his mother, Bea, promised to curse him if he ever wed. Realizing his time is about up with Betsy, the two fly to Las Vegas to marry that night.
In Vegas, Mafioso type Tommy Korman sees Betsy as a dead ringer for his deceased wife and plots to woo her. He lures Jack into a high-stakes, fixed poker game where Jack ultimately agrees to Tommy’s spending a weekend with Betsy to pay off his debt. Furious, Betsy agrees to fly with Tommy to his mansion in Kauai. A rescue attempt by repentant Jack, interference by Tommy’s henchmen, various sightings of Bea and the planeful of skydiving Elvises cleverly bring the tale to its foregone conclusion.
What brings this recommendation to a yes is the stellar work of Chicagoland-based performers. Michael Mahler, Chicago’s Matthew Broderick, is a wonderful comic actor, playing the wide-eyed Jack with a similarity to his recent performance as Seymour in American Blues Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors. His rendition of “I Love Betsy” is particularly heartwarming.
Samantha Pauly is too sexy to be so desperate for a geek. But her gorgeous voice on songs like “Anywhere But Here,” “Betsy’s Getting Married” and “I’ve Been Thinking,” among others, team with her acting chops and carefree attitude during time spent with Tommy to give her Betsy Nolan enough Samantha attitude and make the character her own.
Sean Allan Krill, the Chicago actor given the shows best, crooning songs, is a vocal combination of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. “When You Say Vegas,” “Out of the Sun,” and “You Made the Wait Worthwhile” (a duet with Pauly) will wow audiences throughout this run. It’s a shame his character turns almost needlessly menacing, turning him into more of a true villain than a romantic-comedy foil, but that’s on the writer, not the actor.
With an ensemble of once and future leads (Alex Goodrich, Aaron Choi, Richard Manera, Christine Bunuan, Laura Savage, Devin DeSantis, DeShawn Bowens, Shana Dagny, Alejandro Fonseca, Tyler John Logan, Jessica Wolfrum Raun, Drew Reddington, Ambria Sylvain, Steven Strafford, Allison Sill and Kristina Larson), it’s Marya Grandy‘s hysterical portrayal of Jack’s mother, Bea, a sight-gag-filled, master class in comedy, that stands out the most.
So yes, would-be patrons, if stellar performance of laugh-filled, song-infused musical theatre sounds like your way to usher in this fall, head on out to Lincolnshire where the cast of Honeymoon in Vegas is waiting for you.
Marriott Theatre presents “Honeymoon in Vegas” through October 15 at 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. More information and tickets are available here.