"Is this show going to send to me straight to the moon?," I asked cheekily on Twitter before the curtain went up on opening night of the new musical adaptation of the classic 1950s television sitcom “The Honeymooners,” which is receiving its long-delayed world premiere at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse.
Personally, it didn’t have enough “bang” or “zoom” to send me even beyond New Jersey — but I say that as someone who did not grow up with “The Honeymooners.” In fact, I only began watching the series recently on YouTube.
Whereas the original episodes had speed, unpredictability and grit, the musical is sappy and sanitized, resembling a two-and-a-half hour valentine to a half-hour sitcom, depending heavily on sentimental romance and bromance, plus shout-outs to classic moments and contemporary fads for easy laughs.
The production (directed by John Rando and choreographed by Joshua Bergasse) is polished, peppy and pleasantly old-fashioned in style.
The cast (including Tony-winner Michael McGrath as Ralph, Michael Mastro as Ed, Leslie Kritzer as Alice and Laura Bell Bundy as Trixie) is game for the occasion. McGrath evokes (without directly imitating) Jackie Gleason’s exaggerated physical mannerisms, and Kritzer excels at offering snappy, street-smart replies to the deluded men around her.
But the book (using a labored plot about Ralph and Ed somehow becoming advertising execs and Trixie becoming a nightclub performer) takes the characters out of their natural habitat of working-class Brooklyn, and the score (by composer Stephen Weiner and lyricist Peter Mills) is workmanlike and forgettable.
The project calls out for witty, New York-savvy writers from the period when “The Honeymooners” was still on television, such as Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows (of “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”) or Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green (of “Bells Are Ringing” and “Do Re Mi,” the latter of which resembles “The Honeymooners” in a lot of ways).
I can imagine “The Honeymooners” having a successful national tour before fading into obscurity — not unlike the musical adaptations of “Happy Days” and “Little House on the Prairie,” which coincidentally also premiered at Paper Mill.