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Marriott deals a royal flush with ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’

Let’s deal the winning cards right from the start here: “Honeymoon in Vegas,” the non-stop laugh-inducing, joy-generating show now at the Marriott Theatre, is the sort of musical comedy you might think no one is capable of creating any more. With a plot line as zany as the one for an old-fashioned gem like “Anything Goes,” paired with a mother-son relationship as fraught and funny as anything dreamed up by Mike Nichols and Elaine May (and linked to a fear-of-commitment), it is goofy escapist entertainment of the highest order. It also is blithely free of political correctness, a true rarity among recent Broadway musicals.

As it happens, the show — with a book by Andrew Bergman, who penned the screenplay for the 1992 movie of the same name — arrives here with several of the leading creators of its 2015 Broadway production back on board, including director Gary Griffin (in absolute top form), choreographer Denis Jones (who has the audience cheering from the start), and savvy costume designer Brian Hemesath. But perhaps the biggest surprise is that its often jazzy music and brainy but hilarious lyrics are the work of Jason Robert Brown, the immensely talented force behind “Parade” and “The Bridges of Madison County” — two shows that could not be more different in tone. Brown nails the Vegas vibe in every note and clever, outrageous lyric, as does the ideal Marriott cast.

The story (unapologetic fluff injected with great wit), begins in Brooklyn where Jack Singer (Michael Mahler), a sweet but nerdy guy, seems unable to tie the knot with the girl of his dreams, Betsy Nolan (Samantha Pauly), a pretty and capable teacher who wants to get married and start a family. The looming barrier to Jack finally taking a vow is the “curse” cast by his guilt-inducing mother, Bea (Marya Grandy), whose deathbed wish 10 years earlier was that he’d never marry and share his love with any other woman.

When Betsy finally confronts Jack he decides to make a move – taking her shopping for a ring at Tiffany’s (one of the show’s most unforgettable scenes), and then suffering a panic attack. Only when it looks like he might lose Betsy for good does he suggest they fly off to Vegas and get married at once.

Of course Vegas being what it is, their visit to the Milano Hotel and Casino is no sure thing, especially with the arrival of two resident hustlers — an urbane man in middle age, Tommy Korman (Sean Allan Krill, the sublime Chicago-bred actor who was a standby for Tony Danza on Broadway), and his bumbling henchman, Johnny Sandwich (Steven Strafford). Korman’s instant attraction to Betsy — a dead ringer for his beloved late wife — drives him to devise a plan by which Jack will lose his shirt at poker and he will spend an idyllic weekend in Hawaii (maybe more) with Betsy. You really have to be there to enjoy the rest.

The show instantly hooks its audience with Jones’ big swing-style dance number that sets the rapid-fire pace and energy. Mahler easily captures Jack’s earnest romanticism and high anxiety, and Pauly, with her strong belt voice, leggy figure and down-to-earth frankness suggests just why he is so attracted to her.

A scene in the Milano lobby, complete with a Middle Eastern sheik, party boys, hookers, a slot-playing Chinese tourist and nervous staff, is priceless. So are Krill (whose dreamy voice, natural grace and impeccable acting should have made him a Broadway star long ago), and Strafford, terrific as an old school gangster. And if there is a more blackly comic, ruefully romantic song than “Out of the Sun” (yes, it is about skin cancer) I can’t think of one.

Grandy’s flawlessly timed deathbed scene is one of the great comic moments in any recent musical. And in the crazily satirical Hawaii sequences, Christine Bunuan, a petite wild woman with a big voice and great comic flair, easily steals the stage as a faux tourist guide who tries every seduction trick in the book on Jack in “Friki-Friki.”

Jack’s attempted return to Vegas inspires an airline reservations satire of pure genius (eat your heart out Second City), and involves a trip with the fabulous Flying Elvises that should remain a surprise except to say the multi-talented Mahler proves himself a fearless aero-bat.