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How to Put Soul in a “Honeymoon”

Date: Dec 09, 2014
Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

Make no mistake: the new Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas is supposed to be a lark. Based on the 1992 film, it’s a fizzy romance about Jack Singer, a guy who won’t propose to his girlfriend Betsy because his mother cursed his love life. (Like, literally cursed.) He almost loses his lady, however, when she’s seduced by a flashy gambler, and getting her back requires a trip to Hawaii, a visit to a mysterious tropical monument, and a skydiving trip with a planeload of Elvis impersonators.

So again… this is not Greek tragedy. And Jason Robert Brown’s score, with its swinging Vegas sounds, is designed to keep toes tapping while these lovelorn dorks sort out their lives.

But despite all the goofiness, the actors have to take their roles seriously. If their performances don’t have legitimate feeling—if they don’t show some rcognizable humanity—then the whimsy won’t work. Just ask Brynn O’Malley, who plays Betsy: “The show is so much fun and the circumstances we’re put through are so ridiculous,” she says. “But we also feel like our job is to be the ambassadors of truth and make sure that no matter what is put in front of us, we approach it from the most grounded place.”

That’s one reason she’s glad to have another crack at her role. O’Malley also played Betsy when Honeymoon in Vegas premiered at New Jersey’s Paper Mill Playhouse last year, which means the Broadway run at the Nederlander gives her the chance to go further with her performance. (The show is currently in previews and officially opens next month.) “What’s been fun this time around is we get to dig a little deeper and really track Betsy’s journey through the show,” she says.

Of course, digging deeper doesn’t always mean breaking brand new ground. In one crucial scene, for instance, Betsy has to decide if she’s going to impulsively go to Hawaii with the romantic gambler (played by Tony Danza) and leave Jake alone with his commitment-phobia. At Paper Mill, O’Malley motivated Betsy’s decision with both anger and excitement, while both her paramours fought for her attention. “We liked that scene,” she says. “But we weren’t sure, coming in to this round, if the scene as written was what we wanted to do for Broadway.”

She continues, “We thought, ‘Well maybe we can play it this way, or we can take Jack out of it, on an on.’ We went through four or five versions, only to discover that the one we started with is the one we’re gonna do. But now we know exactly what we’re doing, and we know exactly why.”

On the other hand, O’Malley has made significant changes to how she sings Brown’s score, particularly the emotional number “Anywhere But Here,” where Betsy explains the cost of spending all these years with Jake and his fear.

“Jason loves to write a long high note, and he loves to take you to the basement of your voice, then yank you up to the highest note you’ve got,” she says. “[At Paper Mill] I was so concerned about all the high notes that I was thinking of that song as a high belting song, when in fact it’s a pretty low song with just a couple of notes that pop up. But I was getting so concerned about those high notes that it was a little busy, vocally. I was shifting gears a lot in the song. It wasn’t as seamless as I wanted it to be, and I was doing way too much work.”

This time around, though, she and the creative team have a new approach. “We’ve spent a lot of time just finding where I live,” O’Malley says. “Because I’m not a high soprano. I’m more of a mezzo. And we’re finding a way to stay in that same voice from the very bottom note all the way up to the high belting notes, and magically enough, it’s much easier to sing now!”

Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor

Photos By Joan Marcus