Do you remember the movie Honeymoon in Vegas? I remember its trailer from 1992 — Sarah Jessica Parker; something about skydiving Elvises — and I remember it being on the New Releases shelf at Blockbuster for a while, but that’s it. The movie, written by Andrew Bergman and also starring Nicholas Cage and James Caan, came out in that weird little moment of comedies that vacillated between zany and absurd. (Remember Joe Versus the Volcano?) It made some money for Castle Rock, but mostly came and went. No one, I think, was demanding its upgrade from VHS to Broadway, but we got it so here we are.
The musical, also adapted by Bergman, tracks a couple’s madcap attempt at a wedding that’s long overdue. Why overdue? Because of a deathbed curse from the man’s mother dooming any marriage to fail. Why would she want that? Stop it with these questions. The book doesn’t go into it, but instead sends the couple on its way to Vegas, damning curse be damned, then on to Hawaii due to the poker-table cunning of a playboy who finds the man’s fiancée to resemble his dead wife. Then the skydiving Elvises skydive.
It’s a plot that’s over-the-top enough to pass what I call the W. H. Auden test (“No opera plot can be sensible,” he said, “for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.”) while Las Vegas provides a milieu ripe enough with opportunity for production numbers. Hiring Jason Robert Brown to score the show ups its ante (that’s the only one I’ll do, I swear), so you think this might be the rare Netflix musical to transcend its genre.
Honeymoon doesn’t quite do that, but it does sit on the better end of the spectrum of adaptations that entertain well enough.
Its strengths come from two of its personnel, the composer Brown and its star, Rob McClure. When you walk into the theater, you notice there’s no orchestra pit; today that often means the orchestra will be Skyping in from whatever afterthought corner of the theater was available, but curtain-up reveals a full orchestra on stage playing a flashy, Broadway overture. Brown is known for really caring about his scores (I once saw him conduct his Parade — on tour!), and he does here. While this one does…reach…occasionally — lyrics name-drop Shake Shack and Beyoncé to establish period — it offers classic Jason Robert Brown, with vestigial Last Five Years showing up in songs like “Anywhere But Here,” a ballad about the exhausted fiancée wanting a little house in Mount Kisco, and the well-written (and well-performed) comedy number “Airport Song” which mentions Atlanta more times than in all of Parade.
Rob McClure commits to playing Jack and provides the required energy to get us through his wild trajectory. (McClure became a Broadway darling a couple seasons ago in the title role of Chaplin: The Musical.) He’s handsome and affable though can believably sing about a girlfriend who “likes guys with thinning hair.” Brynn O’Malley as that girlfriend is fine, and her Betsy fits well into this wacky premise. Yet, she just doesn’t have that same quirk of Sarah Jessica Parker, who could reliably keep the ball in the air in a game of Have We Gotten Too Silly Yet? Nancy Opel plays the mother, too peripheral a role for such a reliable musical comedian: Opel was once Evita and was later nominated for a Tony for Urinetown. (Though, props to her for agreeing to fly after being significantly injured playing Yente in Fiddler years back!)
Most who buy tickets to this show, though, will have been sold on Tony Danza, the playboy of the poker table. I feel a pressure to pooh-pooh Broadway’s use of former sitcom stars, but I often find them to do well onstage. Sitcoms, after all, are generally three-act drawing-room comedies in 22 minutes, performed before a live studio audience. Judith Light, Brooke Shields and Rhea Perlman have all made me happy in Broadway theaters, and Danza’s comedy chops do the same here. But, he also has songs. Several. In most, the orchestra overtakes him and when it doesn’t it should. Why, I wonder, didn’t Jason Robert Brown write Danza “insert star here” numbers, the type that you (and even I) can talk-sing? It’s a move that would have allowed the show to present more strongly its assets.
Netflix musicals have become a regular enough genre that they’re best reviewed with that in mind. Many roll their eyes at them, and for good reason. But many see their virtue, wanting pre-tested material before dropping a hundred bucks on a couple hours’ entertainment: also fair. Honeymoon looks the same as many in this genre — there’s a lot of LED and the creators’ focus seems mainly on hitting the source material’s plot points — but I still put it on the stronger side of this genre’s spectrum. And do what you wish with that.
Last modified: May 8, 2019