Friday, January 16, 2015

Honeymoon in Vegas (Nederlander Theatre)

By Harry Forbes

Jason Robert Brown demonstrates his extraordinary versatility with a brassy Broadway score miles removed from the lush and romantic semi-operatic outpourings of last season’s “The Bridges of Madison County.”

Andrew Bregman’s adaptation of the 1992 movie which starred Nicolas Cage, Sarah Jessica Parker, and James Caan, is more in the vein the musical comedies – emphasis on comedy – of the 1950s and early 1960s, one which, like so many of those, makes for a diverting evening on the town, perfect for the tired businessman, as they used to say.

Rob McClure, also showing versatility after his last Broadway stint in “Chaplin,” is Jack, the marriage-phobic boyfriend of Betsy (Brynn O’Malley). He has almost determined to shake off the ghost of his late, domineering mother (Nancy Opel) who had made him promise he’d never marry.

The couple heads for Las Vegas, but Jack allows himself to be suckered into a poker game with gangster Tommy Korman (Tony Danza) who spies Betsy, and thinks she’s the image of his late lady-love. Over a crooked game of cards, Jack loses $58,000 which, of course, he doesn’t have. He either faces physical injury or else must allow Betsy to go to Hawaii with Tommy for a platonic weekend. Complications ensue.

Though the show does sometimes seem as tacky (intentionally so) as the Vegas milieu in which it is partly set –Hawaii and New York are the other settings – the cast is good, and Brown’s score is mostly lots of fun.

Danza, a likeable mobster, reveals a pleasantly gravelly voice, and even gets to show off his tap dancing prowess. O’Malley is vocally strong, and proves a winning object of both men’s affections.

The show received good reviews at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2013, and though I didn’t see it there, would seem to be little built-up for Broadway in terms of its modest but pleasant production values: Anna Louizos (scenery), Brian C. Hemesath (costumes), and Howell Binkley (lighting).

Director Gary Griffin knows how to stage this sort of funny business, and Denis Jones has provided the neat choreography.

The orchestrations of Don Sebesky, Larry Blank, Jason Robert Brown, Charlie Rosen capture the swinging ambience expertly.
(Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41stStreet;, by calling 877-250-2929)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Constellations (Manhattan Theatre Club)

By Harry Forbes

Roland’s a beekeeper. Marianne’s a quantum cosmologist at Cambridge. They meet cute at a barbeque, fall in love, break up, and come together again. And then must face a tragic hurdle. Or maybe they don’t. Or perhaps not exactly.

For, as quickly becomes apparent, playwright Nick Payne is really showing us the endless possibilities of a Multiverse, as we learn when Marianne, in an early scene, explains to the clueless Roland the difference between Relativity (i.e. “the sun, the moon, the stars”) and quantum mechanics (i.e. molecules, quarks, atoms – that sort of thing”).

She says that “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously…every decision you’re ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes.”

And that, more or less, is the extent of the physics, so unlike a Stoppard play where the scientific theory would be talked out endlessly in the densest of prose. But, over the course of the play’s 65 or so intermission-less minutes, we see this theory played out in 70 individual scenes (each punctuated by a blackout) where conversations (or parts of conversations) play out in different ways subtle and profound. And the effect is just as intellectually stimulating.

Stars Jake Gyllenhaal (so good in Payne’s “If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet” in 2012 at the Roundabout), is completely convincing as an average British bloke, and Ruth Wilson is a delight in her mercurial role. They play together beautifully, and handle the tricky dialogue – scenes play out almost but not quite like the ones which preceded them – with admirable dexterity. Their timing is quite extraordinary.

The love story at the core of the play’s premise, which can also be said to be the way we experience time, is very moving indeed, so the play touches the heart as much as the mind. And the serious elements are leavened with just enough humor.

Tom Scutt’s wondrous scenic design – white balloons and light globes – suggesting the Multiverse (or perhaps a cluster of atoms) pleases the eye, and is cunningly conceived to comment on the action, as the globes change colors at key plot point, and the balloons sadly fall to the ground during some bittersweet moments.

The play’s original director at the Royal Court in 2012 – Michael Longhurst – repeats that assignment here, and paces the scenes masterfully.

Lee Curran’s lighting – working brilliantly in tandem with Scutt’s set – and David McSeveney’s impeccable sound are further pluses.

MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street, or 212-239-6200)