Filichia Features: Honeymoon in Vegas Goes to High School

Filichia Features: Honeymoon in Vegas Goes to High School

By Peter Filichia on March 10, 2017

The stage must be as wide as an Arena Football field, and yet, so many kids wanted to be in in Honeymoon in Vegas that Tracey Gatte had to use the aisles to fit them all in.

No fewer than 54 kids participated in the first-ever high school production of the Andrew Bergman-Jason Robert Brown musical.

Harry S Truman High in Levittown, Pennsylvania has a storied drama department. It was first immortalized in Michael Sokolove’s Drama High which will soon make it to television. “They haven’t cast Lou yet,” Gatte said. “But Rosie Perez will be playing me.”

“Lou” is Lou Volpe, whose four-decade run with Truman Drama is one of the greatest success stories in American high school history. Read more about him here:

So when Gatte – a former Volpe student – took over in 2013, she had a diamond-hard act to follow. A new drama teacher who succeeds a legend often finds that kids no longer want to be involved, now that Mr. Icon or Ms. Marvel is no longer steering the ship. But the history and habit of doing good theater has been so ingrained in Truman that its kids still audition by the dozens.

That’s why Music Theatre International entrusted Truman Drama to debut Honeymoon in Vegas. And how did Gatte and the kids make out?

Splendidly. The story involves Jack Singer, a nebbish mama’s boy who promised his mother, however reluctantly, that he’d never marry. But, as he sings in his opening song, “I Love Betsy.”

Not enough, however, to marry her. Stalling is the one thing he can do. Betsy’s been patient for five years, which isn’t much compared to Adelaide’s wait for Nathan Detroit. Still, this five-year-non-plan stretches the bromide “Marry in haste, repent at leisure” to the breaking point.

If Jack won’t marry her, Tommy will – albeit not for the best reasons. This high-roller’s beloved wife Donna is dead and Betsy is a dead ringer for her. Tommy suckers Jack into a poker game, beats him and says he’ll forgive the $58,000 debt if Jack lets him spend the weekend with her.

Did you just blink while you uttered “Is this a fitting subject for high school?” Tommy immediately assures Jack that he’ll be “a perfect gentleman” and there’ll be nothin’ dirty goin’ on. He does keep his promise, not that he doesn’t drop a few hints that he and Betsy could make some beautiful music together.

In fact, they can, thanks to Brown’s peppy, Vegas-infused, Cahn-and-Van Heusen, Nelson Riddle-ish score. You must have a top-notch band to play this Rat Pack-like music, for if the overture fails, you’ll lose the confidence of your audience before any actor steps on stage.

Here’s one of those rare musicals where your leading man doesn’t have to be tall, dark and handsome. Give that talented kid who’s been stuck playing Charlie Cowell in The Music Man and other character roles the chance to show how well he can do with a lead. Rocco Angelastro eased through the role as the man-child at first fearful of marriage and then ready to commit when he sees Betsy might just enjoy the very high life that Tommy’s offering.

The score demands a good belter for Betsy’s songs, a soulful crooner for Tommy’s and a raspy voice for Jack’s mother. Alyssa Kresge didn’t just nail her numbers, but jackhammered them. Cordell McLemore delivered his in a supple voice that was as cool as a refrigerated cucumber (while sporting a smile not to die for, but to live for). Samantha Osborn had a mother of a melisma that makes Oliver’s in “Where Is Love?” sound like an eighth-note, and she maneuvered it with no trouble.

Vegas means Elvis, and the plot requires a dozen of them. Before you say “Where will I get 12 Presley look-alikes?” remember that men, women, children, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Caucasians and Latinos have all impersonated the king. One size fits all.

That your Elvises require lacquered-hair plastic “wigs,” white jumpsuits (and a couple of gold ones, too) is just the start of costume requirements. Act One demands showgirl outfits, headdresses and ostrich feathers. Tommy and Betsy’s trip to Hawaii in Act Two means your girls will change into grass skirts and bikini tops.

Choreography must be precise in the Vegas scenes (Mariah Pizzo’s certainly was; her dancers made a fine unit). And do splurge on a little motorized car for your Tommy to drive. (How Levittown loved that!)

Truth to tell, the script has more than a modicum of profanity, so directors in communities that don’t cotton to such talk should think twice. Some so-called “adult situations” raise their heads and might raise some of your theatergoers’ eyebrows and voices. (“No one here has complained,” said Gatte. “Lou trained them well.”

Aside from those caveats, the show should sell well for you, given its household-name recognition from the 1992 hit film. Never mind “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” What happens in Honeymoon in Vegas will be seen from sea to shining sea.

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You may e-mail Peter at Check out his weekly column each Monday at and Tuesday at His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at