A gamble that absolutely paid off. The LMTO’s Honeymoon in Vegas was imaginative, thrilling and redefined my notion of the ‘concert version’ in all the right ways.
Normally when I’m watching musicals, I find myself quite shamelessly waiting for the visual spectacles. I’m holding out for the green protagonist to ascend, the helicopter to descend, the genie to shove his taps shoes on or the chandelier to hurry up and assemble.
Strip moments like that out and I get nervous. Will the increased emphasis on the music keep me engaged (especially with a show and score I’m not at all familiar with)? ‘Concert’ versions scare me. Well, scared. Past tense now.
You can probably see where I’m going with this; the London Musical Theatre Orchestra (LMTO)’s one-off performance of Honeymoon in Vegas redefined my notion of the concert version and what one is capable of achieving. It was exciting, it was uplifting and they quite simply brought the Palladium’s house down. I’d argue it was every bit as spectacular as any of the long-running West End shows in its own way.
It was incredibly powerful (and even a little bit moving) to experience a 30-strong group of passionate musicians, clearly at the top of their games, fill a venue as large as the Palladium with a loud brassy Big Band-style score like Jason Robert Browns’. The orchestra constituted a visual spectacle in themselves, as well – of course – as an aural one, and I’d watch them again any day over a fake chopper on wires. It was a real pleasure to watch many musicians of my age or possibly slightly younger still, at the beginning of their careers but clearly destined for greatness, not only being given the opportunity to join the more seasoned (and perform in their first paid gig), but to often seemingly lead their sections. Props to the LMTO for being able to facilitate that opportunity, and for the gender balance (the number of young female musicians, in particular, was wonderful and refreshing to see).
The musical and score itself is fun, brash (good brash) and certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. A fair few of the songs are genuinely catchy: rare – I find – with modern musicals. The storyline – albeit slightly baffling – lends itself well to a fairly recognisable, old-school MT structure whilst the lyrics are wry and self-conscious enough for it to feel reassuringly modern. Why exactly Betsy loves Jack so much admittedly remains a mystery: the male protagonist doesn’t exactly demonstrate many (any?) redeeming features, particularly in the first half. Considering she’s not a meek character, you do wonder why she’d put up with being messed about for years, and with someone who’s actually willing to ‘gamble’ her in a poker game. Odd – but hey, it’s musical theatre. Probably doesn’t deserve too much psychoanalysis, I understand.
With the exception of a noticeable lack of BAME performers (one?) – despite the fact a third of the action is set in Hawaii and the rest in contemporary America (sort it out) – the casting was smart. The leads were confident, well-suited to their roles and displayed both great chemistry and comic timing across the board. Samantha Barks has an exceptional jazz voice and made a character that could quite easily be two-dimensional feel remarkably well-rounded. Arthur (top name) Darvill’s portrayal of Jack was nuanced and fun, Simon Lipkin stole all of his scenes (no surprise there) and you longed for more of Rosemary Ashe – consistently hilarious during the couple of occasions she was allowed onstage. The ensemble were similarly top-notch, many given a brief moment to take centre stage. They fully deserved the raucous laughs, and even spontaneous applause at times, that came their way. The only weak link was, surprisingly perhaps, Maxwell Caulfield who seemed slightly under-rehearsed and lacked the singing voice of the on-the-money supporting cast.
So overall, it was a bit of a triumph. An ambitious one-off performance which deserves to be seen again and again with an exceptional comic cast, playful and inspired directorial decisions and a truly spectacular orchestra. Everyone fully deserved their three (!) ovations.