PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 10-16: A Love Letter to Honeymoon and Constellations Shines Bright

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Jan. 10-16: A Love Letter to Honeymoon and Constellations Shines Bright
 
Broadway got a late Christmas miracle this week. Honeymoon in Vegas, the forever-previewing Jason Robert Brown-Andrew Bergman musical comedy that has been struggling with box-office numbers as low as January temperatures, got a big, fat, wet kiss from the critics when it officially opened.

Rob McClure
Rob McClure Photo by Joan Marcus

“As embodied by the bright and bouncy new musical Honeymoon in Vegas,” wrote the New York Times, “the world capital of gambling and neon is everything you want it to be. That means a little hip, a little square, a little dangerous, a little kitschy and a whole lotta delicioussh [sic] fun…. This production is also a real-live, old-fashioned, deeply satisfying Broadway musical in a way few new shows are anymore. Adapted by Andrew Bergman from his 1992 movie, with a swinging score by Jason Robert Brown and a smooth-as-Ultrasuede star turn by Tony Danza, this show offers the perfect sunny holiday for frozen Eastern city dwellers.”

Honeymoon In Vegas answers gloomy Gotham's crying need for some good old lowbrow farce,” echoed Variety, “the kind of show with silly songs, mindless physical comedy and towering showgirls in feather headdresses. Scribe Andrew Bergman has turned his not-quite-cult 1992 movie...into a not-quite-knockout Broadway musical. But with catchy tunes and clever lyrics by Jason Robert Brown, sweet comic turns from Rob McClure and Tony Danza, and a bevy of Elvis impersonators, this brassy little show might brighten up this town over the winter.”

“Jason Robert Brown's big and brassy score borrows gleefully from the obvious sources — Sinatra, Mancini and Liberace — and splices that swingin' lounge vibe with his own bouncy, wryly neurotic voice,” said Time Out New York. “It's a thrill to see his musical craft and depth in the service of so much splendid silliness. Because let's face it: Andrew Bergman's book…is goofy stuff...But it's very funny.”

Honeymoon in Vegas, based on the 1992 film, is an unexpectedly delightful, thoroughly conventional movie spinoff that isn't hard-selling anything more than a good time created by experts. Tony Danza, no joke, is a pro... And director Gary Griffin has an inventive idea for every location-hopping improbable moment without losing the show's easygoing likability. And then there is the supper-club jazzy/old-time Broadway score by Jason Robert Brown... Despite all these original spins on a familiar brand, the show has not been selling during previews. Perhaps it will now.”

Certainly, that’s what the producers are hoping. If the public doesn’t flock after those reviews, it truly does not want to see a musical starring Tony Danza and dancing Elvis impersonators under any circumstances. ***

The hullabaloo over Honeymoon somewhat overshadowed the achievement of Nick Payne's Constellations, a love story about a beekeeper and a physicist that features Jake Gyllenhaal and Ruth Wilson, which also officially opened on Broadway this week at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. But the show won fine reviews as well.

Jake Gyllenhaal
Jake Gyllenhaal Photo by Joan Marcus

AP said, “With impressive ingenuity, Nick Payne's touching, playful drama Constellations takes on some big topics — the nature of time and mortality — through his unconventional presentation of a love story set in 'the multiverse'... Roland and Marianne flash through a series of scenes playing and replaying various versions of their encounters that twist into different outcomes... Despite abrupt scene and mood fluctuations, Gyllenhaal and Wilson perform the tricky repetitions and time shifts with breathtaking smoothness.”

Variety said, simply, “Short and sweet and strangely haunting.”

***

There are going to be a lot more happy directors and choreographers this coming spring. Twenty-five percent more, to be exact.

The Tony Awards administration committee met Jan. 15 for the second time this season to determine the eligibility for eight Broadway productions from the 2014-15 season, and it emerged with a major new change in rules that determine the number of Tony nominees.

Starting this season, if there are seven eligible candidates in either the Best Direction of a Play or Best Direction of a Musical categories, the number of nominees in the respective category will increase from four to five. A similar ruling affects the Best Choreography category.

Actors will also be affected by the changes, with the potential for a whopping seven nominees to be named in the various Best Performance categories.

With all those nominees, the Tonys may have to rent a bigger hall.

***

Usually stories about theatre censorship in the southern and midwestern sections of the United States have to do with conservative constituencies objecting to what they consider objectionable sexual or religious content in a play or musical’s text. Angels in America and Corpus Christi, which have been protested and banned many times across the country over the years, are the classic examples of this sort of social stand-off.

Jean-Claude Baker
Jean-Claude Baker

So the shutting down of a production of the emo-rock musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, scheduled to play Raleigh Little Theatre in semi-deep South North Carolina, in May, was particularly interesting news.

The reasons for the cancelation stemmed more from liberal political correctness than conservative narrow-mindedness. The musical received criticism over its depiction of Jackson's treatment of Native Americans while in office, which includes the execution of the Indian Removal Act, forcing thousands of Native Americans to relocate along the Trail of Tears. Artistic director Patrick Torres began conversations about the musical with the regional Native American community and decided he could not continue the production without their support.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. The original Off-Broadway run was criticized by Native Americans, and a production in Minneapolis in June 2014 faced public protests. Students at Stanford University canceled a production in November after on-campus protests.

The final irony is that the musical satire has been replaced with a production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a rock musical about a transgender singer fronting a fictional rock-n-roll band. Now, that’s the show you expect to be shut down in North Carolina!

*** Better late than never. And, boy, did this come late.

Motown, the Broadway show featuring music from the legendary Motown catalogue, recouped its $18 million investment at the end of 2014 — just a couple weeks before its projected closing date Jan. 18.

***

Jean-Claude Baker, owner of the famed theatre district restaurant, Chez Josephine, and one of the New York theatre’s last great restaurant hosts, died Jan. 15, by his own hand. He was 71.

Chez Josephine, a staple on W. 42nd Street, near Theatre Row, has been for 30 years a favorite of the Broadway community, particularly visiting English thespians, as well as celebrities like Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Much of the attraction lied with Baker, the flamboyant and gracious adopted son of Josephine Baker, a happy eccentric who ladled Gallic charm on all his regulars and transformed the space in a living, over-the-top tribute to his famous mom. He was the sort of one-of-a-kind character with which the theatre community used to be replete.

The restaurant has announced that they will be closed for business Jan. 15 in honor of “Maman Jean-Claude," but plan to re-open Jan. 16 "as Jean-Claude would wish.”

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