BWW Review: HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, London Palladium
Fresh from the success of The Last Five Years at the former St James Theatre, acclaimed composer Jason Robert Brown last night joined a stellar cast for a one-off concert performance of his Broadway hit Honeymoon in Vegas. Accompanied by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, Samantha Barks and Arthur Darvill led the cast as engaged couple Betsy and Jack.
They have been together for five years, but Jack is unable to commit to marriage as he believes he's under a curse from his dead mother: her dying wish was for him never to marry. In spite of this he suggests they elope to Vegas, but once again gets cold feet and heads off to a poker game that he says will serve as his bachelor party. Little does Jack know that he's been invited by Tommy Korman to be fleeced and then served an ultimatum: get Betsy (the double of Korman's late wife) to spend the weekend with him or be thrown to the mercy of the loan sharks to pay off his debt.
The plot is a little bizarre at times - who knows what's going through Betsy's mind, for one thing - but its absurdity makes it all the more enjoyable and definitely gives it licence to keep pushing the boundaries. What is remarkable is how well it works without the assistance of sets, costumes and props (aside from the odd flower garland and sunglasses). Prior to the concert, the LMTO's musical director Freddie Tapner noted that the script and music would be telling the story, with a little assistance from the audience's imagination - thanks to the commitment of the cast and the talent of the orchestra, this is exactly what happened.
What made the night even more special was Jason Robert Brown himself taking on the task of conducting the LMTO, becoming their first ever guest conductor. Brown brought great flair and verve to the role, as well as some extra injections of comedy thanks to his instinctive sense of humour and animated style. The audience was even treated to some of his own musical stylings, as he strummed a ukulele for "Hawaii/Waiting For You" and got behind the grand piano for part of an impromptu encore of the overture.
Every member of the cast and LMTO chorus worked together wonderfully to pull off a sensational show, but there were some performances that really stood out. Maisey Bawden's number as Mahi ("Friki-Friki") had the audience in hysterics at her excitable attempt to seduce Jack, especially when things got rather carried away! Simon Lipkin very nearly stole the show with both of his roles: Buddy Rocky (the Vegas crooner) and Roy Bacon (head Elvis impersonator). Lipkin is a natural-born entertainer, so these turns suited him down to the ground.
Arthur Darvill and Samantha Barks' chemistry was clear; they had a great dynamic as Jack and Betsy, every inch the loved-up onstage couple. The size of the venue gave Barks' strong vocals a wonderful platform, taking up every inch of the Palladium. Darvill's voice has a classic quality to it that really suits the swing music which makes up the score for Honeymoon in Vegas, and his comic timing is outstanding - particularly coming into its own as Jack is forced into a skydive to reach Betsy in time...
The numerous standing ovations for this one-off event attest that London is crying out for a full production. Jason Robert Brown described it as "an honour and a thrill" to be able to bring his work to such a stage - and the feeling in the audience seemed to be mutual.
Picture credit: Nick Rutter