News Column

Scoring Big on a Dicey Plot

October 8, 2013




A new musical by Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman, presented by the Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, through Oct. 27.

Directed by Gary Griffin, choreographed by Denis Jones.

With Rob McClure, Tony Danza, Brynn O'Malley, Nancy Opel, Matthew Saldivar and David Josefsberg.

Schedule: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $27 to $98.

973-376-4343 or

The true star of "Honeymoon in Vegas" doesn't dance, doesn't act, doesn't belt out a song surrounded by Vegas showgirls or wear a rhinestone Elvis suit.

But with apologies to a stageful of highly talented people who do all those things, it is composer-lyricist Jason Robert Brown who is the real hero of this - rather unexpectedly - terrific new musical now making a stop at Paper Mill Playhouse on its way to a possible Broadway run.

Unexpected, because the lightweight 1992 Nicolas Cage romantic comedy about a Vegas wedding sabotaged by a high-rolling gambler would seem to be thin stuff to base a show on - even if this one does boast the services of TV's Tony Danza and Broadway's Rob McClure ("Chaplin"). But sometimes it happens that a superior show is built on an unpromising foundation: "Anything Goes" and "Damn Yankees" come to mind. Here is another case where a strong score, delivered with flair by skilled performers who seem to be having a great time, adds up to a terrific night.

"Honeymoon in Vegas" may be about the trials of a commitment-shy bachelor with a mother complex (McClure, of New Milford), his long- suffering fiancee (Brynn O'Malley), the sentimental gangster (Danza) who takes one look at her in Vegas and decides to muscle in, and a bunch of skydiving Elvis impersonators. (Yes, that's the plot.) But what it's really about is a celebration of a certain kind of show business: a world of big-band music, showgirls, schmaltz, low comedy, umbrella drinks. In a word: Vegas. Does that sound irresistible? Brown's score makes it sound authentic.

"Honeymoon in Vegas" is a musical that is actually musical: something that can't be taken for granted these days. Not since "Hairspray" has a score deliberately evoking a particular style and era been composed with so good an ear. Here, Brown ("Parade") is evoking the loungy. show-biz stylings of the Rat Pack days -- brassy tunes with an easy swing or a bossa beat. He's taken Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Barry Manilow, Don Ho and Elvis, run them through a coffee grinder and brewed a batch of flavorful songs ("A Little Luck" and the title tune are especially good) that would sound totally in place at Caesars Palace or The Sands. And the lyrics are notably clever. Hats off to anyone who would think to rhyme "fiancee" with "Beyonce."

In this show - fittingly - the orchestra is front and center, right up on the stage. Tom Murray conducts a terrific band that is truly a band, not just 14-piece musical accompaniment. At various points, Frank Basile (sax), James Sampliner (piano) and Mary Babiarz (violin) took solos Sunday that got well-deserved applause.

The show that goes with the band is pretty much a pip. Who knew that a likable TV personality like Danza ("Who's the Boss?") was also a total show-biz pro, bossing the stage with easy charm and terrific soft-shoe dance moves? Who would guess that McClure, the expert mimic of "Chaplin," could be so winning as a frazzled romantic hero (he suggests a young Joel Grey)? O'Malley as the puckish heroine, David Josefsberg as a king snake among lounge lizards, Nancy Opel as the overbearing mother, Matthew Saldivar as Danza's oily henchman and Catherine Ricafort as an island temptress are equally deft, under the solid direction of Gary Griffin, abetted by Denis Jones' choreography. But oh, that band.

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