I’m not sure, having seen a concert version staged by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, why Honeymoon in Vegas The Musical lasted only just over four months on Broadway. Perhaps New York audiences were judging a musical by its title, as London audiences may have done with a short-lived musical that played in the same venue as this LMTO concert, the London Palladium, called I Can’t Sing! It wasn’t the so-called ‘Hamilton Effect’, as Hamilton didn’t open on Broadway until after Honeymoon in Vegas closed. Hamilton was playing off-Broadway after Honeymoon in Vegas had opened, which may have technically had an influence, but I think this is unlikely. The ‘Hamilton Effect’, for the uninitiated, is to do with people willing to spend exorbitant amounts of money getting tickets for Hamilton, even up to a year in advance, and thus have little or no remaining disposable income to spend on other shows, so box office revenue elsewhere is depleted, and those other shows are forced to close.
I suspect, in the end, it was just a case of a perfectly decent show that just didn’t pull in enough punters to last a full year on Broadway – it wasn’t the first musical to fall into this category, and it won’t be the last. The score had to have additional orchestrations put in for this one-off concert, as there aren’t any shows in recent years on either the Great White Way or the West End that have boasted 30 musicians, as the LMTO does, which says something about a) commercial considerations these days and b) how important it is that the LMTO continues its good work in giving a fuller orchestral treatment to musical theatre compositions that would otherwise not be heard quite so grandly and so beautifully.
As ever (this being the third of such events I have had the delightful privilege of attending), the LMTO’s founder and principal conductor, Freddie Tapner, opened proceedings with a spiel about letting the music speak for itself – this is a concert, not a staged production, and so some imagination would be required from the audience to imagine, for instance, a skydiving scene. I began with a discussion of the title, Honeymoon in Vegas. It sounds cheap and tacky, an event rushed through and ill-considered. But this musical is the polar opposite of all that.
Jack Singer (Arthur Darvill) is no Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, and losing money by being over-confident while gambling at a casino in Las Vegas lands him in big trouble. There’s no equivalent of Gyp in Jersey Boys to approach, so Jack is at the beck and call of his creditor, Tommy Korman (Maxwell Caulfield). But, as the title of one of the musical numbers suggests, they “Come To An Agreement”, and from here, the narrative unravels as a web of lies and half-truths come out with various but often hilarious consequences (from the audience’s perspective, at least) for the characters involved.
Darvill is sublime in the lead role, portraying various emotions effortlessly, from the terror experienced having never skydived before to the joy and exhilaration not only of accomplishing a textbook landing (staged, despite a complete lack of set and props apart from a chair – pure West End meets Edinburgh Fringe Festival – to cheering and applause) but of marrying his beloved Betsy Nolan (Samantha Barks). In a smaller space perhaps his mannerisms may have been overkill. In the large London Palladium it’s just perfect.
Barks has a lovely vocal well-suited to her role, as does Rosemary Ashe, the latter putting in a small but show-stealing role as Jack’s mother, one of those old dears who speaks their mind so forthrightly one cannot help but be bemused by her. Dramaturgically speaking, the character development is lazy: here comes yet another older person in a musical who holds resolutely outmoded and narrow-minded principles, but in the end capitulates to help ensure a happy, happy ending. Had Betsy’s own parents had bit parts themselves in this musical and held similar views to Bea Singer, one could almost envisage Jack plucking up the courage to declare, a la Dirty Dancing: “No one puts Betsy in a corner.”
Jason Robert Brown, the musical’s composer and lyricist, accepted an invitation from the LMTO’s producers, Stuart Matthew Price and James Yeoburn, to conduct his own show. Well received by an expectant audience clearly familiar with his back catalogue, a cool and composed demeanour contrasted with the joyous nature of the show, whilst allowing the performers and orchestra members the maximum possible limelight. As part of the show is set in Hawaii, Brown even had a turn on the banjo (according to the liner notes of the Broadway cast recording, it’s a banjo: here, it seemed to me more like a ukulele).
And the laughs kept coming. Simon Lipkin, doubling up as Buddy Rocky and Roy Brown, the former a casino host and singer, the latter the leader of a troupe of Elvis Presley impersonators, commanded the stage with likeable confidence. Mahi (Maisey Bawden) brought the house down with a musical number called ‘Friki-Friki’, milked for all it was worth to the point where a concert stand toppled over. What happened after is best summarised by the oft-repeated joke (well, oft-repeated in the theatre industry, at least), “How many stagehands does it take to change a lightb- well, thank you!”
I mean, it’s hardly progressive, and a feminist critique of the plotline will no doubt identify some pertinent issues that a modern musical perhaps should have done better to address. At times the music, particularly performed by an orchestra dressed in suits, comes across as a tribute to the Rat Pack, or at least the big band sound of a previous generation. The witty lyrics showcase Jason Robert Brown’s literary skill brilliantly, and this charming and celebratory show left me with a smile on my face, even on the Monday morning after the Sunday night before.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.