There’s trouble in ‘Vegas’

The play is mired in a pained attempt to enliven and exaggerate.

In an ideal world, Jason Robert Brown, a three-time Tony winner, and one of the most innovative writers of contemporary musical theater, would finally land a Broadway hit – something that has eluded him in the past two decades, much to the frustration of his many fans (of which I am one).

Brown’s best musicals (“The Last Five Years,” “Parade,” “Songs for a New World”) are thoroughly original in format and inspiration. Even if they were not commercial successes in their original runs, they continue to be performed throughout the world. “Parade” will be seen in concert at Lincoln Center next month, and the film version of “The Last Five Years” is about to come out.

Recently, Brown has shifted toward working on adaptations of familiar properties. Last season, his underwhelming musical version of “The Bridges of Madison County” came to Broadway (and flopped), and now he is back with “Honeymoon in Vegas,” based on the Nicolas Cage-Sarah Jessica Parker film comedy about a New York couple that comes to Vegas to get hitched –  and gets derailed by a slick, smooth-talking card shark who wants the bride for himself.

Here and there, Brown offers an exciting, finely crafted song, and the show starts to soars. During those moments, you feel as though you’re watching a modern-day “Guys and Dolls,” and not yet another forgettable movie-turned-musical churned out for Broadway.

But more often than not, “Honeymoon in Vegas” is mired in a pained attempt to enliven and exaggerate a simple but heartfelt boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl story into a broad, over-the-top musical comedy.  
There is an air of desperation to some of the antics. For instance, making the main character’s dead mother into a constant, ridiculous presence is an irritating obstruction to the storytelling. On the other hand, the skydiving “Flying Elvises” troupe at the end (who groove to athletic choreography) is a delightful touch.

Tony Danza, as the card shark, has a congenial presence, but his character drags down the sparks flying between the dynamic Rob McClure and alluring Brynn O’Malley. Danza’s songs, which may have been tailored to suit Danza’s limited singing abilities, are inferior to the rest of the score.

“Honeymoon in Vegas” plays an open run at the Nederlander Theatre. 208 W. 41st St.,

Matt Windman