Theater Review: HONEYMOON IN VEGAS (Musical Theatre Guild in Los Angeles)

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by Tony Frankel on May 8, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


More fun than walking away a few bucks ahead from a black jack table, this pell-mell, silly-sweet, old-fashioned musical comedy (ya know, gangsters, lovers, Elvis impersonators, a curse) just couldn’t find an audience when it landed on Broadway in 2015. But that’s why we have Musical Theatre Guild, which takes rarely produced and flop musicals, presenting them as staged concert readings with only 25 hours of rehearsal. And last Sunday, MTG gave us the L.A. premiere of Honeymoon in Vegas at the Alex Theatre. Staged by Jon Lawrence Rivera with clockwork precision and inspired bits, I’m happy to report that the outstanding company came up with three cherries on this slot machine.

Some marriages get tested before they tie the knot. That’s trenchantly the case with betrothed couple Jack Singer and Betsy Nolan, untried Brooklyn lovers whose plan for a wedding in Vegas goes artfully astray. A 1992 film with James Caan, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Nicholas Cage, Honeymoon in Vegas morphed into this crazy roulette wheel of a musical created by original screenwriter Andrew Bergman, with a serviceably peppy jazz-pop rat-pack score by Jason Robert Brown, whose tricky rhythms were played magnificently by the smokin’- smokin’- smokin’-hot music director and pianist Anthony Lucca and his small band. (When, oh when, will MTG find an angel who can get them a full orchestra?)

Proverbial fish out of water, Jack (Will Collyer) and Betsy (Ashley Fox Linton), a 31-year-old schoolteacher, have run off to Sin City for a nuptial quickie after a five-year engagement. This sudden resolution of their romance comes when Jack’s guilt over defying the deathbed injunction of his control-freak mother to remain unwed causes her to materialize at a jewelry store (the colossal Roberta B. Wall’s “Never Get Married” was hilarious). Jack clearly is head-over-heels for his fiancée (the funny and catchy “I Love Betsy!”), but she resents Jack’s commitment phobia (“Anywhere But Here”); this roiling uncertainty makes her vulnerable to propositions from a powerful third party.

The snake in her grass is hotshot gambler and part-time mobster Tommy Korman (Robert Yacko). This mover and shaker instantly sees in Betsy an uncanny resemblance to his late love Donna, a sunbather who cooked herself into skin cancer (“Out of the Sun”). Tommy arranges a high-stakes poker game with sucker Jack. The latter loses $58,000 on what he thought was an infallible straight flush. Threatening open-ended harm if he doesn’t pay up, Tommy persuades Jack to surrender Donna for one weekend (“Come to an Agreement”). The frightened chump complies.

Strangely, so does Betsy (though she could use a song to convey her ambivalence). In no time this very different couple is comfy-cozy at Tommy’s digs in Kauai (Glenn Shiroma ensures us that “Every Day Is Happy in Hawaii”). Unscrupulous Tommy will lie and cheat to get what he wants (“You Made the Wait Worthwhile”).

Jack can only grow a spine (“A Little Luck”) and pursue his lost lady to the islands. To win back his lass, he’ll visit the “Garden of Disappointed Mothers” — where his endlessly resurrected mom appears — and skydive with some Elvis imitators (“Higher Love”).

Along the wacky way, Mr. Rivera keeps the fun frothy and the audience from asking questions about probability and causation. We’re delighted with surefire staple stereotypes: lounge singer Buddy Rocky (I wanted to toss rose petals and poker chips after Bill Ledesma’s “When You Say Vegas”); Tommy’s dithering henchman Johnny Sandwich (comic pro John Massey); and a “Me-So-Horny” Hawaiian seducer (who wouldn’t want to “Friki-Friki” with lithesome Jennie Kwan after this number?!). More gratuitous than earned, the production numbers, choreographed by Lee Martino, pop up like passion fruit. As with the ebullient rouser “Betsy’s Getting Married,” they’re enough excuse for entertainment.

Collyer delivers double takes delightfully, and confidently conveys his cascading catastrophes. Fox Linton works overtime to make emotional sense of her rather psychologically unprocessed Betsy. Completing the tense trio, Yacko makes nefarious Tommy just the kind of flashy but relaxed bad guy who could impose on the right ingenue (I just wish the creators had rounded out this slime ball so he had more of a likability factor).

Happily, the mostly implausible happenings are daffy enough to support some terrific songs — even if, besides deepening some pretty shallow souls, they italicize the contrivances as a peculiar plot comes full circle. If there’s a problem with the show, it has to do with song placement, and some songs needing serious tweaking (the Act I closer, “Do Something,” falls flat). Too fast to fester in its foolishness, Honeymoon in Vegas carries its amoral storyline to strange heights. Would that all shenanigans like this could be a sure bet.

The just announced 2018 – 2019 Musical Theatre Guild season will include Mame (September 23, 2018), Zorba (November 11, 2018), Minnie’s Boys (February 10, 2019) and Sunday in the Park with George (May 5, 2019).

photos by Alan Weston

Honeymoon in Vegas
Musical Theatre Guild
Alex Theatre
216 Brand Blvd. in Glendale
played Sunday, May 6, 2018
for future shows, call 818.243.2539
or visit MTG

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