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Marriott's 'Honeymoon in Vegas' hits jackpot for laughs

Anyone who has spent any time in Las Vegas knows the lure of the games and glitter.

Anyone placing bets or pulling a slot machine handle (or these days, pushing a slot machine button) better have the dough to surrender in case Lady Luck isn't looking over the gambler's shoulder.

The 1992 comedy film, "Honeymoon in Vegas," which starred Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, James Caan, Anne Bancroft and a 6-year-old Bruno Mars, put a humorous spin about gambling bets gone terribly wrong, an angry mother's curse and an army of publicity stunt parachuting Elvis Presley impersonators.
The movie, which I haven't ever seen, is the inspiration for a very funny stage spin of the same name which premiered on Broadway as a musical starring Tony Danza in 2015. Even though New York audiences didn't seem to embrace this silly send-up of Sin City, since the Broadway run closed after just a few months, the Midwestern sense of humor will love the goofy and fun escape from the every day on display in the new production of "Honeymoon in Vegas" now onstage until Oct. 15 at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

Led by the original Broadway powerhouse team, including 10-time Jeff Award-winning director Gary Griffin, Tony Award-nominated choreographer Denis Jones and Emmy Award-winning costume designer Brian Hemesath, whose credits include PBS's "Sesame Street" and NBC's "Saturday Night Live", this latest "Honeymoon in Vegas" also ranks as the official Chicagoland premiere.

With music and lyrics by three-time Tony Award-winning composer Jason Robert Brown and book by highly-acclaimed American screenwriter Andrew Bergman, the musical also unites Jeff Award-winning musical director Ryan T. Nelson and Jeff Award-winning associate choreographer William Carlos Angulo for this two and half hour tale of showgirls, gamblers, gangsters and a controlling mother who would give any son nightmares.

Brooklyn couple Jack Singer, played by the always entertaining and talented rubber-faced Michael Mahler, and Betsy Nolan, the pert and wide-eyed Samantha Pauly, escape to Las Vegas. The two have hopes of finally getting married, despite the deathbed curse of the would-be groom's meddling mother, Bea, played to the hilarious hilt by talented Marya Grandy. After the two encounter Tommy Korman, a handsome Vegas gambler who is certain Betsy is the reincarnation of his deceased wife, they find themselves on a wild adventure that takes them to Hawaii while trying to patch up their doomed future.

Gambler Tommy is played with delicious finesse by Jeff Award Winner Sean Allan Krill, with Steven Strafford stealing some very funny scenes as his second banana Johnny Sandwich.

The bonus of this reinvented Broadway musical is the assembled talent of the supporting cast, which includes DeShawn Bowens, Christine Bunuan, Aaron Choi, Shana Dagny, Devin DeSantis, Alejandro Fonseca, Alex Goodrich, Anne Gunn, Kristina Larson, Tyler John Logan, Richard Manera, James Rank, Jessica Wolfrum Raun, Drew Redington, Laura Savage, Allison Sill and Ambria Sylvain.

Since the Marriott space is a "theater-in-the-round", this musical requires some very clever staging which has been accomplished with creativity to seamlessly transport audiences to the many needed scene locations. The production set design is by Kevin Depinet teamed with lighting design by Jesse Klug and sound design by Robert E. Gilmartin, with assorted fun properties designed by Sally Weiss and projection design by Anthony Churchill.

Actress Christine Bunuan especially has fun with her musical number "Friki-Friki," playing an Hawaiian temptress who tries to seduce Mahler's character. Other favorite songs include "I Love Betsy!," "When You Say Vegas" and "Every Day is Happy in Hawaii."