Review: Honeymoon In Vegas

2014-11-20 20.05.42I’ve been a fan of Jason Robert Brown since 1999, when I first encountered Parade, and in the fifteen years since then I’ve gone to see him multiple times in concert, have made the effort to attend every one of his local productions (I even flew into New York from Ireland just so I could see the original production of The Last Five Years), and bought all of his cds. Throughout this time I’ve always hoped he’d get the smash hit he deserves, and with the glowing review the Papermill production received in the New York Times last fall, I had hoped and expected that Honeymoon in Vegas would finally be his big success.

Not so much. Not as far as I’m concerned, anyway.

Now before I go any further, let me just say that this show is early in previews and could change a little or a lot before it officially opens in January. Since I paid good money for my ticket, though, I feel no hesitation in detailing my disappointment.

If you remember the movie, Nicholas Cage (Jack, played here by Rob McClure) and Sarah Jessica Parker (Betsy, played here by Brynn O’Malley) go off to Las Vegas to get married, and chaos ensues before they finally tie the knot. How come? Well:

  • Contrivance 1: Jack’s mother put a deathbed curse on him so he’d never get married.
  • Contrivance 2: When Jack and Betsy get to Vegas, gambler and wealthy businessman Tommy (Tony Danza) decides Betsy (who looks like his dead wife) is his soul mate, and concocts a ridiculous plan to win her away from Jack before they have a chance to get married.
  • Contrivance 3: The plan actually mostly works. Jack gets tricked into sending Betsy off for a romantic weekend in Hawaii with Tommy.
  • Contrivance 4: It all takes a bunch of flying Elvises to put everything back together again.

I know what you’re thinking. Geez Julia, this is a comedy! It’s not meant to be realistic! I get that, but here’s the thing. I like Jason Robert Brown’s music and lyrics because he generally incorporates thoughtful, intelligent, thorough approaches to character and song. Plus he’s funny. You do get a sense of how good Mr. Brown can be in Honeymoon in Vegas‘s opening number, “I love Betsy”:

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

See? Witty, heartwarming, real. That’s his appeal. So upon reflection, it doesn’t surprise me so much that his humor and wit don’t jive with the outlandish, over-the-top plot twists in this show. Honeymoon in Vegas seems to smother Mr. Brown’s talent in jazzy faux-Vegas standards, or brash comedic numbers that only intermittently work. (What works: “Airport Song”, “Friki Friki”; What doesn’t: almost everything that Tony Danza sings.) One other interesting note: “I Love Betsy” brought down the house at a JRB concert I attended a few years ago. Same for “When You Say Vegas” (one of those jazzy faux standards I just mentioned). I actually think neither is performed as winningly in the show as they were in concert. Mr. Brown is an outstanding, charismatic performer; I’d have loved to see him in the show as the tacky Vegas headliner Buddy Rocky. (I suppose he has a lot on his plate with rewrites, though. Or, well, I hope so.)

I did occasionally giggle during the show, and some of the audience around me seemed to find it quite amusing indeed. But to me it mostly felt draggy and ridiculous. I don’t blame the cast. They do what they can. Mr. Danza is very charming and even manages a lovely tap solo at one point, even though his songs aren’t really up to par. But the real problem is that it’s very hard to connect with Jack or Betsy. Jack, as played by the very talented Mr. McClure, is nebbishy and indecisive and doesn’t really seem like he deserves Betsy, who basically just spends the whole show irritated at him for being so idiotic.

To be completely fair, however, this story was never going to appeal to me, because i think it’s stupid. (Shakespeare could have written this show and I’d still spend my whole review complaining about the plot.) However, I really wanted to see Honeymoon in Vegas succeed, and would love to see its many problems fixed. Or maybe I’m just in the minority and other folks will love it. Here’s hoping.

My grade: C-
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes (I have to think they’ll shave this down to 2:30 or so)
Ticket price: $50 (TDF)
Worth it: No, but that I was happy to go to be loyal to JRB
Standing Ovation Watch: A smattering

Tony Nominations 2014

My first thoughts when it comes to Tony nominations and awards are always about the shows I’ve taken “ownership” of for one reason or another. Since I saw all of them before I even started this blog, I thought I’d talk a bit about my reactions to the nominations (or lack thereof) for some of my big favorites of the season.

As a caveat, I haven’t seen three out of the four best musical nominees. (Good grief! That sounds so embarrassing! What kind of Broadway blogger am I?) I do want to see Beautiful and After Midnight in the weeks to come, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to snag a ticket for Aladdin. For the plays, I’ve seen All the Way, Outside Mullingar and Mothers and Sons, but not Casa Valentina or Act One. I’m not convinced I’ll get around to seeing either, so my fairly uninformed pick for Best Play is currently All the Way.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder
My pick for best musical of the year (since Fun Home isn’t eligible), and my current go-to selection for those who ask me what show they should see on Broadway. So naturally I was really delighted with all the nominations for this piece. Both actors (Jefferson Mays and Bryce Pinkham) are wonderful and I’d love to see either win (though I know they won’t, not with Neil Patrick Harris in the running). I was happy for Lauren Worsham, though her nomination made me wonder if Lisa O’Hare (who is also terrific) got her feelings hurt a bit. I know I would, if I was the only one of the four major actors in a show not to get a nomination. She’s probably way more professional than I am, though. In any case, I’m rooting for this show to win nearly everything but best score, though the songs are terrific. A friend pointed out that a comedy like Gentleman’s Guide doesn’t even need to have songs that are this good. But it does, and it’s wonderful. I just think the score was bettered, just by a teeny tiny bit.

The Bridges of Madison County
I’ve been pretty apologetic about my regard for this show. When people ask me how it is, I say something along the lines of this:

“Yeah, I really do think it’s great, but then of course I’m a Jason Robert Brown fan and I tend to love his music. And you know, I don’t even care about the love story that much, because Robert Kincaid isn’t even all that interesting of a character*. Mostly I love it for Francesca and her story.”

You know what? The heck with that. I’m going to stop apologizing. It’s a lovely show, full of heart and intelligence. (And oh that music! My favorite score of the year. Again, the caveat is that Fun Home isn’t eligible.) I got really irritated with the New York Times review, which seemed to imply that Kelli O’Hara’s performance was the only real reason to see this show. I agree that she is marvelous, but there’s plenty to like about this show. The writers did a great job of opening up the story, it’s beautifully staged, the sets are evocative, the cast is all-around terrific. Basically, the whole thing is a really strong effort. I agree with Jesse Green, who said “That the musical succeeds in extracting something so smart and powerful from the treacle is little short of miraculous.” It deserved a nomination for best musical, for crying out loud. Tony committee, what’s the matter with you people?

* – I still don’t think Robert Kincaid is nearly as interesting as Francesca is, though. I get that theirs is a Great Love, but geez. He really doesn’t ever experience intimacy except for those four days in Iowa? That’s totally neurotic! I want to see a musical about how nuts that guy is. The gorgeous, heartfelt song “It All Fades Away” doesn’t actually do him any favors in my book, because who wants to live a life like that? I tend to justify it to myself, however, by saying it’s a song basically along the same lines of “This Nearly Was Mine” from South Pacific. Yes, over the top, but since when did Broadway shows shy away from “hearts on sleeves” moments? Still, though, next to Francesca’s lovely and complex “Always Better” immediately afterwards, it’s a bit hard to swallow.

Bullets Over Broadway
Boy can Susan Stroman ever stage a musical. Wow. Every number, every transition is winning and clever and joyous. I just love to watch her dancers move onstage. Particularly during that gangster tap dance number, which is a real old-fashioned showstopper. (Do they get a Tony number? Can they pretty please do the gangster tap number on the Tonys?) Of course, transitions and choreography don’t necessarily make for a wonderful show. To be honest, I prefer the movie. I keep telling people who ask me about it “Well, the whole reason I like musicals is for the new songs and this show doesn’t have any of those.” (Which is why I haven’t gotten around to After Midnight or Beautiful yet.) (I shouldn’t mention my unabashed love for Jersey Boys as it might contradict my point.) But the lack of new songs probably isn’t the real reason. I just wish it was a bit funnier, and that it didn’t take out some of my favorite moments from the movie, like Cheech’s final script suggestion, and the film’s lovely closing scene. I don’t think I would have picked it over Bridges for a nomination, but snubbing both Bridges and Bullets just seems mean. But I’m really happy for Nick Cordero as Cheech, who is just as good as you’ve heard. Marin Mazzie’s lack of a nomination was a bit of a shock, though. What more does the woman have to do? Geez louise.

Twelfth Night
After I saw this, I told all my friends that “Twelfth Night makes SO MUCH SENSE now! It should always be an all-male cast!” Finally, the Viola/Sebastian mixups are just as funny as they were written to be! I never thought the Anne Hathaway Central Park production could be topped, but then I wasn’t accounting for Mark Rylance. Obviously I’d love to see him win for both lead actor (for Richard III) and featured actor (Twelfth Night), just because of the possibility of seeing two of his kooky Tony acceptance speeches in one evening. I didn’t see Richard III, though, so I can’t say for certain that he’s likely to top Bryan Cranston. Anyway, just about everything in this production was delightful, and I’m very happy the Tony committee seems to agree, with nominations for Stephen Fry, Samuel Barnett, and Paul Chahidi.

Best of luck to all the nominees! I look forward to toasting you on Tony night from home, a glass of Prosecco in hand.