Smart, sassy production of ‘The Honeymooners’ takes off at Paper Mill

By Liz Keill

MILLBURN, NJ – “And away we go” indeed. The creative team at the Paper Mill Playhouse has taken the seeds of “The Honeymooners” from 1950’s television and turned it into a smart, snappy musical.

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Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton are still up to their get-rich-quick schemes while their long-suffering spouses, Alice and Trixie, put up with it all. Michael L. Walters, filling in for Michael McGrath during the last few days, is adept and believable in the Jackie Gleason role. Michael Mastro as his sidekick, Ed, fills Art Carney’s shoes to a tee.

The scheme in this production is the decision to enter a jingle contest for an ad agency, promoting Faciamatta cheese. One way or another, they win the contest and are soon exposed to the high life style that money can buy. It’s quite a change from their days as bus driver and sewer worker.

They’re well paired with Leslie Kritzer as Alice and Laura Bell Bundy as Trixie. Kritzer, who starred in “Funny Girl” at Paper Mill in 2001, has a show stopping number with “A Woman’s Work.” Bundy, as well, is terrific as a former burlesque performer and struts her stuff in “Keepin’ It Warm.” Lewis Cleale plays Bryce Bennett, the creative director who tries to manipulate the two working class guys from Brooklyn. Lewis J. Stadlen adds an appealing world weary charm as Old Man Faciamatta.

The chorus is outstanding throughout, from the Bus Drivers’ “Going Places” to the lilting “Toast of the Town.”  Some scenes have hints of “Mad Men” and others have touches of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” But “The Honeymooners” is very much its own show and makes a case for lasting friendships and relationships. The performers are adept at bringing these characters to life in their own interpretation, without imitation.

Director John Rando has kept it all moving along swimmingly and you can’t ask for more sparkling costumes by Jess Goldstein or a fluid, New York skyline set by Beowulf Boritt. Stephen Weiner’s music and Peter Mills’ lyrics give this musical an old fashioned appeal. Yes, it’s based on whatever nostalgia is out there for “The Honeymooners,” but there are enough contemporary references to bring it into the here and how.  Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is smashing. My only caveat is the Christmas commercial, a tacky take on the stable and the birth of Jesus. Baby Jesus likes cheese? I don’t think so. The holiday spirit might be just as easily captured with Santa Claus or another choice that doesn’t spoof a religious tradition. (And making fun of the nativity scene has been done plenty of times before.)

Still, there’s never a dull moment in “The Honeymooners” and its tribute to a much loved television sit com in its day. Performances continue at Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive in Millburn, through Oct. 29. For tickets, call 973-379-3717 or visit PaaperMill.org.