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Review – HONEYMOON IN VEGAS: Snazzy, Jazzy and Hilarious

Jason Robert Brown, most known for musicalizing emotional subjects like a Southern lynching, the crumbling of a five-year romance and facing the consequences of life choices, now, just for the moment, dumps the artsy stuff for a big fat hilarious musical comedy.

Honeymoon In Vegas, based on bookwriter Andrew Bergman's original screenplay for the hit 1992 film, comes to the Paper Mill Playhouse in director Gary Griffin's slick and polished, fast-moving production that has old-school Broadway smash written all over it. It's a little Rat Pack, a little Don Ho, a little New York neuroticism and a whole lot of laughter.

After music director Tom Murray's on-stage orchestra sets the mood with a jazzy supper club style overture (both the overture and the entr'acte display musicians in featured solos), a giddy Jack Singer (a superb Rob McClure in a role that utilizes his physical clowning skills) pops out from under a yellow umbrella, dancing his way through a New York morning singing praises of his girlfriend of five years, Betsy. ("She likes hockey. No, I swear! / She likes guys with thinning hair!")

As played by Brynn O'Malley, a terrific belter with crack comic flair, Betsy seems like a great catch; a smart, urban gal who, unfortunately, has had her share of romantic misadventures and hears that biological clock ticking louder and louder. But when it comes to marriage, Jack has a reason to be commitment-phobic. Ten years ago, he made his domineering mom a deathbed promise that he would never marry, because she insisted he would never find a woman as good as her. (Mom, whose spirit keeps popping up at the most inopportune moments, is played to the nutty hilt by Nancy Opel.)

After Jack chickens out with his latest attempt at a proposal, Betsy is ready to break it off for good until the desperate guy sucks up his courage and asks her to join him on the next plane to Las Vegas so they can be wed immediately.

Once there, though, Betsy is spotted by the dapper, sophisticated and mob-related Tommy Korman, who sees in her an exact replica of his late wife. The sentimental and morally corrupt Tommy serves as a perfect vehicle for Tony Danza's knockout performance as a smooth and graceful tough guy who croons like a vintage saloon singer and even dabbles in a bit of soft shoe for his big second act number.

Tommy sets up a crooked poker game that sends Jack into the hole to the tune of $58,000, and then - because he's a nice guy - offers to call it even if Betsy will spend her last weekend as a single woman with him. Furious with Jack, Betsy agrees to play along, but when it turns out that Tommy's plans for the weekend include a flight to his luxurious home on the island of Kauai in Hawaii, Jack follows in hot pursuit, not realizing that Tommy's network of hired hands keep sending him in wrong directions while the slick millionaire romances his bride-to-be with his willingness to commit.

Bergman's book is sharp with jokes and sight gags (like the showgirl who plays the harp with her breasts) and introduces an array of colorful characters like Matthew Saldivar as Tommy's numskull assistant named Johnny Sandwich ("I changed it from Focaccia."), Catherine Ricafort as a frisky Hawaiian tour guide who wants to make friki-friki with Jack and David Josefsberg doubling as a cheesy lounge singer ("Only suckers go to Foxwoods, get a clue / And come to Vegas where dreams come true!") and the leader of a troupe of entertainers known as The Flying Elvises.

But despite all the surrounding excellence, it's Brown's score that's the star of the show, gliding from frantic New York rhythms to muscular Vegas jazz to touristy Hawaiian melodies and even a hard-rockin' Elvis number.

But most impressively, his flippant lyrics continually offer both wry observations and flat-out belly laughs (one in Hawaiian) that entertain without taking focus from the desire for true love that motivates the three main characters.

On opening night, a song where a lonely Tommy describes the death of his wife received roars of laughter from the audience while never straying from the point that the man misses her badly.

Denis Jones' location-focused choreography (loved Betsy's Williams Brothers style backup in one number), Anna Louizos' versatile set and the colorful splashes from Brian Hemesath's costumes all contribute greatly to the fun.

They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what's happening at Paper Mill oughta come to Broadway.

Photos by Jerry Dalia: Top: David Josefsberg, Rob McClure and Company; Bottom: Tony Danza and Brynn O'Malley.

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