From the opening notes of the overture of the wonderful score by Jason Robert Brown played by the large on-stage orchestra with a Big Band Sound reminding us of Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa with sax and trumpet solos we are immediately transported to you-know-we-are-about-to-have-a really-good-ring-a-ding time theatrical experience.
Based on a 1992 film of the same name by Andrew Bergman who wrote the sometimes very funny, sometimes satirical and sometimes preposterous book for this production that wowed New Jersey audiences at the Paper Mill Playhouse we meet the true star of the show – Rob McClure (Jack Singer) who dazzled in the title role in CHAPLIN.
Here the versatile McClure is a hapless happy-go-lucky guy with mommy problems and a fiancée who has been waiting around for five years to get hitched. She is a teacher. So she is smart. But not with Jack. He promised his mom (the always outrageous Nancy Opel) who has been dead for ten years that he would never get married although he is madly in love with Betsy (a sweet Brynn O’Malley) and she is madly in love with him. Mommy pops up every so often at the most inopportune times to our delight.
So they decide to escape to the swinging Vegas of the 60’s “where dreams come true” to be married at The MILANO Hotel where they bump into goomba Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) who falls immediately for Betsy a dead ringer for his recently dearly departed wife Donna who developed cancer while sipping drinks and basking too long in the Vegas sun.
So Tommy sets to work on stealing Betsy from Jack setting up a crooked poker game – a very prolonged musical poker game that is nicely staged by director Gary Griffin. Complications arise and Betsy finds herself whisked away for a weekend in Hawaii by Tommy with Jack in pursuit where he is side tracked to “The Garden of Disappointed Mothers” by henchwoman Mahi (a delightful Catherine Ricafort) who sings a very clever “Friki-Friki” as in Coochi-Coochi.
Wait. There’s more. It’s a long show. Funny but long. On the way to the inevitable happy ending Jack falls in with The Flying Elvises which is the highlight of this production.
David Josefsberg is Roy Bacon (head Elvis) and Buddy Rocky the lounge singer goomba – a dead ringer for Tony Orlando - at The Milano and he is absolutely terrific and quite frankly overshadows Danza. In fact he would be a better Tommy as Danza although quite game and obviously enjoying himself is stiff and takes all the air out of the show with his first entrance. He does however improve.
Tommy’s sidekick Johnny Sandwich (Matthew Saldivar) gives a noteworthy goomba performance.
Anna Louizos has designed creative and mobile sets enabling the pace to hardly ever slacken. The use of the set pieces that come up from below the stage are terrific.
Jason Robert Brown’s lyrics are exceptional. Fun and smart and move the characters along on their goofy, gaudy and giddy romantic odyssey.
At the NEDERLANDER THEATRE
Photos: Joan Marcus
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