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How good can a commodity musical ever hope to be? Is it possible to bring a well-remembered hit movie to Broadway in a manner that is both unpredictable and creatively fresh? Judging by “Honeymoon in Vegas,” the new Andrew Bergman-Jason Robert Brown stage version of Mr. Bergman’s 1992 screen comedy about an almost-married schnook who gets into a rigged card game with a gangster and ends up losing his bride-to-be, the jury is still out. The first act is gloriously fine, the second act much less so—but some of the show’s biggest problems stem from some of the casting rather than from the adaptation….
Mr. Brown has crunched the dramatic exposition of the film into a fast-moving sequence of musical numbers whose sterling craftsmanship is marvelous to behold, starting with one of the smartest list songs to hit Broadway in decades: “She likes hockey. No, I swear!/She likes guys with thinning hair!/And I love Betsy!” What’s more, Brynn O’Malley, a stunningly sharp-witted stage performer whose talent has heretofore been squandered on second-banana parts, proves herself more than equal to the challenge of a starring role….
So what’s wrong? Here goes: (1) The second act is slowed down to a slog by a string of superfluous songs right when it needs to gear up to a farcical hurtle. (2) Rob McClure is nebbishy to a fault. (3) Tony Danza is far too nice and not nearly sexy enough to be plausible in a role that was created on screen by James Caan. You simply can’t believe that Jack would find him threatening, or that Betsy would seriously consider sleeping with him….
Nick Payne’s “Constellations,” which has moved to Broadway from London’s Royal Court Theatre, where it was premiered in 2012, starts out like this: A woman (Ruth Wilson) tries to pick up a man (Jake Gyllenhaal) at a party. He tells her that he’s in a relationship. A sound effect is heard and the action starts over. The woman repeats her pickup line, the man brushes her off in a different way, a sound effect is heard and the action starts over again—and again. The situation develops slightly differently each time, and by evening’s end the entire history of a marriage has been played out onstage.
If this “plot” sounds at all familiar, it should, because it is identical in virtually every particular to the structural device that propels David Ives’ “Sure Thing,” a one-act comedy that was first performed in 1988 and was last seen Off Broadway two seasons ago at Primary Stages. To be sure, Mr. Ives’ work is not as widely known in England as it is in the U.S., where “Sure Thing” is very frequently staged,. But the two plays are so closely similar in concept (though not in content) that I couldn’t help but wonder whether their resemblance is altogether coincidental….
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To read my review of Honeymoon in Vegas, go here.
To read my review of Constellations, go here.