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'Honeymoon in Vegas' a 'marry' time at the Marriott

If you’re in the mood to laugh and lose yourself in a fun musical romance, a “Honeymoon” in Lincolnshire might be just the ticket.

It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago last month that James Caan, Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicolas Cage hit the big screen with a fun romantic comedy, “Honeymoon in Vegas,” that, in my memory, occasionally mixes up with the 1993 Robert Redford-Demi Moore-Woody Harrelson drama, “Indecent Proposal.” In both films, the wealthiest main character (Caan, Redford) wants to use his power and wealth to entice the female lead (Parker, Moore) away from her boyfriend/husband (Cage, Harrelson). But only “Honeymoon” has been turned into an enjoyable stage musical.

In January 2015, under the direction of 10-time Jefferson Award winner Gary Griffin and starring Tony Danza, “Honeymoon in Vegas” opened on Broadway, closing after less than three months. It was nominated for several Drama Desk awards but no Tony Awards, despite having a book by the movie’s original director and screenwriter, Andrew Bergman, and music and lyrics by three-time Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown (“The Bridges of Madison County,” “Parade”). There was no national tour. So this show easily may have slipped under the radar for many of us – but not for the Marriott’s management, which persuaded Griffin to direct this regional premiere.

Marriott occasionally takes chances in its schedule, including world-premiere musicals “Hero” and “October Sky” in recent seasons, for example. The music for both of those excellent shows was composed by Michael Mahler, whose talents extend to singing and acting, and in “Honeymoon,” Mahler plays our commitment-phobic New York City hero, Jack Singer, who can’t get past his mother’s deathbed wish from 10 years earlier: “Never Get Married” (sung memorably and stridently by Marya Grandy from an unexpected spot on stage).

Jack has been dating Betsy Nolan (Samantha Pauly) for five years, and she’s eager to marry him, but her patience is wearing thin. While Jack sings, “I could never live without her,” a trip to Tiffany’s with Betsy to select an engagement ring ends in disaster, largely because of his mother’s wish/curse.

After Betsy wears her heart on her sleeve, singing Jack may one day wake up to find her “Anywhere But Here,” Jack commits to a flight to Vegas the next morning so they can be wed. Pauly’s performance of that solo, filled with emotion and longing (“a rusty old swing set for our baby to ride”), is an early highlight.

In Las Vegas, wealthy gambler Tommy Korman (Sean Allan Krill) never has gotten over the skin cancer death of his beloved Donna. When he sees Betsy, a virtual twin of his late wife, he thinks this is a second chance at love if he can have time to woo her before she takes the plunge with Jack.

A poker-game invitation to Jack is the opening gambit, and by the show’s intermission, Jack reluctantly has come to an agreement with Tommy to pay off his high gambling debts through a Tommy-and-Betsy-alone weekend.

Will Betsy and Jack have a wedding, let alone a honeymoon, in Vegas? How can Jack compete with someone like Tommy? Of course, both questions are answered in the second act, with Hawaiian luxury, a native seductress who wants to “Friki-Friki” with Jack, a garden of unusual maternal statues, unhelpful airline employees and jump-suited skydivers all playing a part in the amusing plot.

Mahler, Pauly and Krill are all well-cast, with Krill a charming villain whose love of his late wife and desire to recapture that love endear him a bit, making you think early on Betsy might not have a totally horrible life if she ended up with Tommy. But his character’s first-act solo, “Out of the Sun,” bothered me. The lyrics about Donna’s constant sunbathing and ultimately fatal skin cancer are largely serious, but when they become laugh-inducing (e.g., “roasting like a chicken in a chair”) – and Krill’s delivery sells the humor of it – it felt out of place, as if Tommy felt his wife’s death was more of a joke than a tragedy.

That reservation aside, I enjoyed this Vegas trip. I’d looked forward to seeing this premiere, and the title of a second-act song captures my feelings perfectly: “You Made the Wait Worthwhile.”