“Honeymoon In Vegas” answers gloomy Gotham’s crying need for some good old lowbrow farce — the kind of show with silly songs, mindless physical comedy and towering showgirls in feather headdresses. Scribe Andrew Bergman has turned his not-quite-cult 1992 movie (with James Caan, Nicolas Cage and Sarah Jessica Parker) into a not-quite-knockout Broadway musical. But with catchy tunes and clever lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, sweet comic turns from Rob McClure and Tony Danza, and a bevy of Elvis impersonators, this brassy little show might brighten up this town over the winter.
That eloquent master of face-comedy, McClure (“Chaplin”), is terrific as sad-sack Jack Singer, a nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn who’s keen to marry his girlfriend Betsy (Brynn O’Malley) but hasn’t the guts to defy the dying curse (“Never get married!”) of his mother, a tyrannical monster in Nancy Opel’s flame-thrower of a performance. After Jack works up the courage to pop the question, the lovebirds wing it to Las Vegas to get hitched. Helmer Gary Griffin (who also held the directorial reins during the show’s gestation at the Paper Mill Playhouse) and his savvy design team seem to have envisioned Las Vegas in its glory days as Sin City, when Frank and Deano were crooning at the Sands and Frank Costello was the silent boss of the Tropicana. That vibe doesn’t compute with the contemporary text, but it does make for some fun visuals.
Anna Louizos’ garishly witty set design of the Hotel Milano harks back to an earlier era of jangling one-armed bandits (no computers here, fellas), spinning roulette wheels and tacky nightclub decor. The house lounge singer Buddy Rocky (who gets the full grease job from David Josefsberg) oozes over to welcome Jack and Betsy with the rollicking “When You Say Vegas (You’re Sayin’ Love!).” Wherever Buddy goes, so go two gorgeous Showgirl Barbies (Leslie Donna Flesner and Erica Sweany) in hot-pink numbers that escaped from costumer Brian Hemesath’s fevered brain.
All those images scream Vintage Vegas. So does Brown’s breezy score (a tribute to the art of finger-snapping) and the brassy swing styling of the fantastic onstage band under Tom Murray’s enthusiastic direction. All in all, the whole sensibility of the show is circa 1960s, as defined by the Rat Pack and their gangster pals and busty playmates. The big mystery is why the creatives didn’t go the distance and set the show where its heart lies.
There’s even a dated feel to the farcical plot, which has Jack racing to hell (literally, to Hawaii) and back to rescue Betsy from the clutches of a big-time gambler named Tommy Korman. Danza radiates slick charm in the role of this sleekly menacing high roller, who travels with his stupid but loyal aide de camp Johnny Sandwich (Matthew Saldivar, pricelessly funny) and stays in the Sinatra Suite when he’s in town. Tommy can have his pick of girls, but he’s smitten with Betsy because she reminds him of his late lamented wife Donna. (That’s no wonder, since O’Malley makes a nice cameo appearance as the love of Tommy’s life.)
Although not a natural-born singer, Danza (who still has fans from both his “Taxi” days and from “Who’s the Boss?”) has a mellow voice, great timing and comedic know-how that comes out to play in “Out of the Sun,” the tragic narrative of how Donna fell victim to the blazing desert sun she worshipped. (“She was beautiful beyond compare,” go Brown’s delicious lyrics, “Roasting like a chicken in her chair.”) Danza also earns his laughs in “Come to an Agreement,” a novelty number in which he bamboozles poor Jack into letting him “borrow” Betsy for a weekend in Hawaii.
The show seems to have been rushed to Broadway a bit prematurely, since some rather obvious bald spots in the second act still need work, most conspicuously some overlong transition scenes getting Jack to Hawaii and back to Vegas in time to head off Tommy. Happily, there’s no time for snoozing once Roy Bacon (the invaluable Josefsberg again), the world’s funniest Elvis impersonator, and a singing chorus of brilliantly costumed Flying Elvises show up to rescue Jack — and the show.