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A CurtainUp NJ Review
The Honeymooners
Look, Ralph, you've been with the bus company for fifteen years. How many promotions have you gotten? — Alice
Counting last year? — Ralph
Yes. — Alice
None. — Ralph
Leslie Kritzer and Michael McGrath (photo credit: Jerry Dalia)
If the producers and collaborators of this new musical inspired by the beloved TV series (same name) from the mid 1950s searched the world again, they could not come up with four better or more ingratiating performers than we have in this world premiere at the Paper Mill Playhouse. That is perhaps the best news about a show that still has plenty of work to do before it even begins to live up to its potential. It starts out fast and funny, begins to puff and pant before the end of Act I, and finally sputters to a full stop in Act II in a resolve of misconceived sentiment.

For those in the know, The Honeymooners are two working class couples— the Kramdens and the Nortons— who lived in the same low-rent Brooklyn apartment building and are best friends. Set designer Beowulf Boritt also takes us to a bus company, a Madison Avenue ad agency, TV station and a couple of fantasy sites.

Ralph Kramden is a blustery $62 dollars a week bus driver and the mostly nonplussed Ed Norton works in the sewers, with the show's same floppy hat. The setting for the TV show was most often the Kramdens' seriously bare-bones kitchen where lame-brained ideas were hatched by Ralph Kramden and abetted by Ed Norton. This, under the loving wariness or downright disapproval of Ralph's wife Alice and Ed's wife Trixie.

Despite being close to dirt poor and admittedly without a phone, TV, even a vacuum cleaner, neither Alice nor Trixie, a former Burlesque dancer, works. Not unusual for the era.

Although the original series starring Jackie Gleason (as Ralph) lasted only 39 episodes, the reruns are still watched and adored by fans. That fan base will undoubtedly be eager to relive the nostalgia and possibly also revive the relationships that existed between the couples. . . of course, with a new plot line.

The cast is perfect. The show, under the direction of John Rando, isn't.

This musical, with its book by Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss, music by Stephen Weiner and lyrics by Peter Mills, makes no attempt to be either structurally or imaginatively different from any musicals that might have been assembled during the mid 1950s. That it doesn't aspire to be anything more may be exactly what the collaborators intend.

It has to do with Ralph and Ed entering a jingle contest and inexplicably winning. Hired by the agency, they hurriedly entertain a change in their life-styles. Expectedly, they find their friendship tested as plot improbabilities intrude with the participation of the employees of the Madison Avenue ad agency that hired them at a ridiculous starting salary. Then there is their first client, the mean-spirited cheese manufacturer, played with mean-spirited delight by Lewis J. Stadlin.

To its credit, Weiner's score is conventionally melodic providing a bright frame for Mill's pleasantly facile and flippant lyrics. Mastro has a super Danny Kaye-styled motor-mouthed song "Love Gone Down the Drain" that's sung with fellow sewer workers. At the top of Act II "To the Moon" is a fine and suitable duet for Ralph and Alice that recalls Ralph' famous threat to Alice but here defines their love for each other. It's the show's best song.

Padded for girth without being grotesque, Michael McGrath (Tony award-winner for Nice Work If You Can Get It ) is terrific as Ralph, the big-mouth dreamer; as is the irrefutably endearing Michael Mastro as Ed in the role created by the late and great Art Carney. With their famed characters' mannerisms refined to a tee, there is little to diminish our admiration for their portrayals.

I doubt if Alice could be more sublimely re-created than she is by a sensational Leslie Kritzer who gets the show's one real showstopper, the jazzy, scat-infected "A Woman's Work." The spirited and shapely Laura Bell Bundy gets a few opportunities to show us some tricks she learned from Trixie's burlesque days.

Trixie's former career gives choreographer Joshua Bergasse an opportunity to include a number for Trixie when she lands a job dancing in a nightclub. One might be easily amused by a hoofing line of bus drivers but less so by dream sequences that simply pad a nonsensical story line. Most of comedy stems from one-liners that were old during the heyday of burlesque.

Attempts at humor fall flat in a burlesque-styled routine in which a shimmy and shake line of minimally clad chorines add on instead of take off their apparel. A cheese commercial authored by Ralph and Ed is an excuse for a lively tarantella with colorful costumes by designer Jess Goldstein. More unfunny is a purposely tasteless TV commercial for a cheese product that is set within tableau vivant of the Nativity.

Unfortunately, after apparently years of incubation there nothing really vibrant about this incarnation of The Honeymooners except its four stars.

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The Honeymooners
Book by Dusty Kay & Bill Nuss
Music by Stephen Weiner
Lyrics by Peter Mills
Directed by John Rando
Cast: Leslie Kritzer (Alice Kramden), Michael McGrath (Ralph Kramden), Michael Mastro (Ed Norton), Laura Bell Bundy (Trixie Norton), Lewis Stadlin (Old Man Faciamatta), Stacey Todd Holt (“Captain Video” Announcer), Holly Ann Butler (Mrs. Manicotti), Holly Ann Butler, Hannah Florence, Tessa Grady, Eloise Kropp (Jingle Singers), David Wohl (Allen Upshaw), Lewis Cleale (Bryce Bennett), Jeffrey Schecter (Lenny Stern, “Cavalcade” Co-Host), Britton Smith (Freddie Muller), Chris Dwan (Ed Streb), Kevin Worley (Francois Renault) Harris Milgrim (Dylan Casey), Lance Roberts (Perry O'Brien, Morris Fink), Michael L. Walters (“Cavalcade” Host)
Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J.
Performances: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday evenings at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 pm; matinees Sunday, Thursday and Saturday at 1:30.
From 09/28/17 Opened 10/08/17 Ends 10/29/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on 10/08/17 performance

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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