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Chicago Theater Review: 'Honeymoon in Vegas'


Some marriages get tested before they tie the knot. That’s trenchantly the case with naïve fiancés Jack Singer and Betsy Nolan, untried Brooklyn lovers whose plan for a honeymoon in Vegas goes artfully astray. A 1992 film with James Caan, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Nicholas Cage, Honeymoon in Vegas morphed into a 2015 musical created by original screenwriter Andrew Bergman, with a serviceably peppy jazz-pop score by Jason Robert Brown. Like Robert Redford’s Indecent Proposal or Garry Marshall’s Pretty Woman, the action hinges on a rich older man taking advantage of a comely maiden’s trusting nature. Las Vegas, of course, is the mandatory setting for “smoke and mirrors” seductive subterfuge.

Now it’s a pell-mell, silly-sweet regional premiere at Marriott Theatre staged by Gary Griffin who directed its New York debut. Happily, the mostly implausible happenings are daffy enough to support songs—even if, besides deepening some pretty shallow souls, they italicize the contrivances as a peculiar plot comes full circle.

Proverbial fish out of water, Jack (Michael Mahler) and Betsy (Samantha Pauly), a 31-year-old schoolteacher, have run off to Sin City for a quickie elopement and nuptial after a five-year engagement. This sudden resolution of their romance comes despite Jack’s guilt over defying the deathbed injunction of his control-freak mother to never marry (it would lessen his love for her and women will fail him as she never did). Betsy 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 (Sean Allan Krill). 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”)—one of several unpleasantries that this show all but delights in. 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 doesn’t get a song to convey her ambivalence). In no time this very different couple is comfy-cozy at Tommy’s digs in Kauai (“Every Day Is Happy in Hawaii”) where he’s managed to set up a phony family to fool Betsy. Unscrupulous Tommy (“I don’t date—I rent”) then lies to her about Jack’s supposed abandonment of his beloved fiancée (“You Made the Wait Worthwhile”).

Tasked with this treachery (“Do Something”), Jack can only grow a spine (“A Little Luck”) and pursue his lost lady to the islands. Convinced by a strange visit to the “Garden of Disappointed Mothers” where his endlessly resurrected mom (Marya Grandy) appears to urge him to prove he’s a man and she’ll lift the curse. When Betsy whimsically decides to return to Las Vegas to marry Tommy, Jack must lurch into a manic return to the mainland. Now certain of marriage if not of Betsy, Jack will do whatever it takes, maybe even skydiving with some Elvis imitators (“Higher Love”), to get back his girl.

Along the wacky way, ingenious Mr. Griffin, abetted by supple sets by Kevin Depinet and brilliant projections by Anthony Churchill, pulls out all the stops. He 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 (Cole Burden); Tommy’s dithering henchman Johnny Sandwich (Steven Strafford); and three very sassy ticketing agents (Alex Goodrich, Anne Gunn and Ambria Sylvain) in the frenetic “Airport Song.” More gratuitous than earned, the production numbers, hoofed up hugely by choreographer Denis Jones, pop up like passion fruit. As with the ebullient rouser “Betsy’s Getting Married,” they’re enough excuse for entertainment.

Mahler is unsurpassed at delivering double takes and conveying cascading catastrophes. Pauly works overtime to make emotional sense of her rather psychologically unprocessed Betsy. Completing the tense trio, Krill makes nefarious Tommy just the kind of flashy, bling-sporting bad guy who could impose on the right ingenue.

Late summer fluff that’s too fast to fester in its foolishness, this 150-minute Honeymoon in Vegas carries its amoral storyline to strange heights and a few disconcerting depths. And, even glimpsed in-the-round, the skydiving finale delivers some major moxie. You could do worse.