A classic TV hit is making its way off the silver screen and onto the stage this fall with The Honeymooners at Paper Mill Playhouse, a brand-new musical making its world premiere with a bevy of Broadway talent.
Is The Honeymooners musical a Broadway contender? Quite possibly. After all, the New York Times review called the Paper Mill Playhouse (in Millburn, New Jersey) premiere a “pleasantly fluffy confection” and a “nostalgia bath.”
The talent is certainly first-rate, with Tony winner Michael McGrath (Nice Work If You Can Get It) channeling every loony nuance of Jackie Gleason’s bombastic NYC bus driver, Ralph Kramden. Fresh from an Off-Broadway dynamo performance opposite Michael Urie (currently starring in Second Stage’s Torch Song), McGrath is joined by Michael Mastro (Kissing Jessica Stein) as a dead-ringer for Art Carney’s Ed Norton, Ralph’s neighbor, doofy sewer worker BFF. Their better halves, Alice Kramden and Trixie Norton, are played by Leslie Kritzer (Something Rotten!) and Tony nominee Laura Bell Bundy (Legally Blonde: The Musical) respectively.
The only question is, will audiences other than Boomers and their parents want to dip their toes into this nostalgia bath about four sit-com characters in the 1950s? The senior set may convince their kids and grandchildren to accompany them to a performance, but turning the B & W weekly comedy into a stage musical with glittery chorus girls and retro show stoppers doesn’t mean it will have the appeal of a Dear Evan Hansen, a musical that speaks directly to their generations. (Especially since some of the built-in hilarity is based on the original dialogue and physical bits.) Parts may be timeless, but the rest requires whispered explanation or Gleason binge watching—fine for some, not so much for those who don’t get the irony of a 1910 “ice box” (the refrigerator precursor) in a 1950s apartment, no matter how no-frills the décor.
In the 1960s, Gleason revived the beloved Honeymooners in color as part of his then weekly TV variety show, with Carney and different actresses playing the wives. Each segment featured musical numbers and die-hard fans weren’t nearly as attached to them as they were their Eisenhower-era prototypes. So the current full-blown musical version even has some precedent.
I hope these concerns are unwarranted. The cast is outstanding (FYI, Hank Azaria was originally to play Ed Norton), and there are lot of elder statesmen and stateswomen who would love to see this musical fly on the Great White Way.
And maybe it will. The fun plotline has Ralph and Ed shocking their wives by winning a high-profile jingle contest. The duo is catapulted from Brooklyn to the cutthroat advertising world of Madison Avenue, putting their friendship to the test.
The new musical features a book by Dusty Kay and Bill Nuss, along with music by Stephen Weiner, and lyrics by Peter Mills. Putting the show on its feet is director John Rando, whose Broadway credits include On the Town, A Christmas Story, The Wedding Singer, and Urinetown, for which he won the Tony Award for Best Direction. Audiences at The Honeymooners can also expect dazzling dance sequences from choreographer Joshua Bergasse, whose past credits include On the Town and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on Broadway, along with the NBC television show Smash.
Bringing the show to life is a cast brimming with Broadway talent. Tony award winner Michael McGrath (The Front Page, Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Michael Mastro (West Side Story, Twelve Angry Men) portray the duo of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, respectively. Leslie Kritzer (Sondheim on Sondheim, A Catered Affair) and Laura Bell Bundy (Legally Blonde, Hairspray) take on the roles of wives Alice Kramden and Trixie Norton, with Lewis Cleale, Lewis J. Stadlen, and David Wohl rounding out the show’s principal cast.
The cast of The Honeymooners also features Holly Ann Butler, Chris Dwan, Hannah Florence, Tessa Grady, Stacey Todd Holt, Ryan Kasprzak, Drew King, Eloise Kropp, Harris Milgrim, Justin Prescott, Lance Roberts, Jeffrey Schecter, Britton Smith, Alison Solomon, Michael Walters, and Kevin Worley. The production team includes set designer Beowulf Boritt, lighting designer Jason Lyons, and costume designer Jess Goldstein.
The Honeymooners is playing at Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey, through October 29. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Papermill.org.