Marriott's 'Honeymoon' a delightful trip
★ ★ ★
"Honeymoon in Vegas" knows exactly what it is.
This 2015 tuner about a commitment-averse guy, his increasingly exasperated girlfriend and the older man who tries to woo her for himself, is pure fluff.
And it's fabulous.
Adapted for the stage from the 1992 film starring Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker and James Caan, "Honeymoon in Vegas" -- in a buoyant, beautifully cast regional premiere at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire -- is the musical equivalent to a rom-com. Helmed by members of the original Broadway creative team -- director Gary Griffin, choreographer Denis Jones and costume designer Brian Hemesath -- this "Honeymoon" is a pleasant, well-devised diversion that doesn't make demands.
For some of us, such a diversion is exactly what we need right now.
Affable, multihyphenate Michael Mahler (an ingenuous singer/actor who's also an accomplished composer/lyricist) plays Jack Singer, who resists marrying longtime girlfriend Betsy (the powerful, wonderfully self-assured Samantha Pauly) because he fears his late mother's deathbed curse. Ten years earlier, mama bear Bea Singer (Marya Grandy, an exceptional comic actress) made her son promise he'd never marry.
Tired of waiting, Betsy threatens to leave him for good, which prompts Jack to propose they fly to Las Vegas to wed.
There, Betsy catches the eye of a debonair gambler named Tommy Korman (Sean Allan Krill, a charismatic actor with a voice like velvet). She reminds him of his late wife Donna, a sun worshipper who "roasted like a chicken in her chair," which Krill wistfully recalls in the wry but touching "Out of the Sun."
With help from sidekick Johnny Sandwich (Steven Stafford), Tommy lures Jack to a high-stakes poker game, which Jack loses. To settle the debt, Tommy "arranges" to have Betsy accompany him to Hawaii for a weekend. Incensed at Jack's betrayal, she agrees.
Meanwhile, Jack's efforts to win her back are thwarted deliberately by Pacific Island seductress Mahi (Christine Bunuan) and inadvertently by well-meaning airline ticket agents (Alex Goodrich, Anne Gunn and Ambria Sylvain) whose very funny "Airport Song" will ring familiar with anyone who has ever had to rebook a canceled flight.
It all ends happily, of course, thanks in part to an accommodating squadron of sky-diving Elvis Presley impersonators lead by Cole Burden's Roy Bacon, who encourages Jack to conquer his fear of commitment and leap into love.
Without question, "Honeymoon in Vegas" is a confection. But it's a well-crafted confection.
Composer/lyricist Jason Robert Brown (whose "The Bridges of Madison County" just closed at Marriott, and whose "Parade" is running at Writers Theatre) is a master at revealing characters and advancing the plot through song. Brown's breezy score (played by 10 instrumentalists conducted by Patti Garwood) consists of snappy, jazz-pop tunes -- including a sweet ballad titled "You Made the Wait Worthwhile" -- crooners like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin might have recorded.
Members of the artistic team responsible for Broadway's "Honeymoon in Vegas" -- including director Gary Griffin, choreographer Denis Jones and costume designer Brian Hemesath -- reunite for Marriott Theatre's Chicago-area premiere.
Screenwriter Andrew Bergman ("Blazing Saddles," "Honeymoon in Vegas") wrote the book, which includes some sly quips, some physical comedy and a brief, unfortunate, wince-inducing stereotype.
Embracing the silliness, Griffin, Chicago Shakespeare Theater's associate artistic director, plays up the kitsch. He stages the show with a nudge, a wink and absolute sincerity. He and his cast understand perfectly what this "Honeymoon" is all about. And they deliver, in spades.