The Paper Mill Playhouse recently opened “The Honeymooners,” a musical theater adaption of the beloved, iconic and immensely popular 1950s television series. The series was synonymous with the comedic presence of Jackie Gleason, who originated the role as Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden.
Set primarily in a Brooklyn apartment, the story centers around Kramden and his wife Alice (played by Audrey Meadows) and their upstairs neighbors and best friends, Ed (played by Art Carney) and Trixie Norton (Joyce Randolph). “The Honeymooners” became a blueprint for other famous series, such as “All in the Family,” “The Flintstones,” “Roseanne” and “The Simpsons.”
The actors and production teams have seized upon the challenge to return to the original material. “I’m not looking for imitation – I’m looking for celebration,” John Rando, the director told the New York Times. “What we’ve made, I believe, is respectful of what was already there, but is also mindful of a contemporary worldview.”
While the Brooklyn apartment was the main setting in the original series, the musical transfers the Kramdens and Nortons to Madison Avenue. Ralph and Ed win a jingle-writing contest which awards them jobs at a swanky advertising agency. “That might cause trepidation among fans — it seems uncanonical. But relax; it works surprisingly well and gives Paper Mill a chance to deploy some of the lavish sets (here, by Beowulf Boritt) that are among its signatures,” writes Neil Genzlinger in his New York Times review.
Paper Mill is well-known for developing productions that move to Broadway as well as launching shows that become successful national tours, including “Newsies!,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” and “A Bronx Tale.” Of course, there is discussion as to whether “The Honeymooners” may do the same.
“Could it go to New York or somewhere else?” said Mark S. Hoebee, Paper Mill’s producing artistic director. “Maybe, but that’s never our focus.”
“The Honeymooners” runs through Sunday, October 29. For tickets and information, contact papermill.org or 973-376-4343.