Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Tonight We're Gonna Party Like It's 1986
If you are a musical comedy buff with a tolerance for standard, generic pastiche pop musicals, you likely will be intermittently entertained by a likeable, energetic cast in those numbers and scenes, mostly musical and comedic, which are pleasurable despite the overall desultory nature of the material.
If you do not fit into either of the above categories, NJPAC has a couple of enormously promising touring musicals of wide appeal coming up shortly.
It is 1985, and Robbie Hart, New Jersey's most popular wedding singer, and his band are tearing up the place at a wedding reception. Robbie bumps into waitress Julia Sullivan, and it is love at first sight for both. Although Robbie is to be married to Linda the next day, and Julia is engaged to be married to Wall Streeter Glen, who won't set the date, it is immediately clear that Robbie and Julia will be together when the final curtain descends.
The complications and misunderstandings which will keep Robbie and Julia apart for two and a quarter hours were derivative before any of us were born and are offered neither wittily nor with any nuance or originality. Robbie (Merritt David Janes) and Julia (Erin Elizabeth Coors) are pleasant enough and sing well, but as written and played, their characters are both essentially bland and one dimensional. Thus, it is the musical numbers, stereotypical secondary characters, and humor about and nostalgia for the '80s that provide whatever entertainment is at hand.
John Jacob Lee (George) and Justin Jutras (Sammy) play Robbie's friends and fellow band members. John Jacob Lee is this production's standout, bringing warmth and sincerity to his Boy George wannabe, despite the fact that the role as written is one of caricature. Lee even manages to bring new found beauty to "George's Prayer," which was performed in a smugly satiric manner on Broadway. Nikka Wahl as the goth-styled Linda does well by one of the more effective Sklar/Beguelin songs, even if it sounds like Pachelbel and rock as structured by Giorgio Moroder for "What a Feeling" ("A Note From Linda," in which she sings the contents of her brush-off letter when she leaves Robbie at the altar). Sarah Peak is lively and entertaining, performing heavy duty as Holly, Julia's sexually aggressive cousin. Mark Raumaker is fine as a Julia's caddish fiancé. When Robbie, believing that Julia is choosing Glen because he earns big bucks, decides to get a job in Glen's firm, Raumaker nicely performs "All About the Green," which is Chad Beguelin's best and most theatrically effective lyric. Penny Larsen plays Robbie's sweet and nurturing foul-mouthed grandmother Rosie. The audience enjoyed her characterization.
Very late in the proceedings, Robbie, Julia and Glen find themselves in a Las Vegas wedding chapel surrounded by impersonators of Imelda Marcos, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Mr. T. and Ronald and Nancy Reagan. There is nothing particularly amusing about their extended and extraneous display.
Paul Stancato is credited with recreating John Rando's original direction, and Chris Bailey is so credited as to Rob Ashford's choreography.
The score, music by Matthew Sklar with lyrics by Chad Beguelin, is at its most enjoyably propulsive in the opening "It's Your Wedding Day." A goofy ballad, "Come Out of the Dumpster" comes close to capturing the feel of the Adam Sandler/Tim Herlihy songs from the film, but just misses the correct tone with the lyric, "When life gives you garbage/ You use it to climb." However, pastiche music has rarely felt more derivative and uninteresting. Much of the music rides on a limited range of insistently loud rhythmic beats monotonously arranged (despite some Van Halen "licks") for a small orchestra (sort of like a New Jersey wedding band). Gone is "Pop!", an upbeat song for a cut scene in which Glen proposes to Julia. It is no better or worse than much of the score, but given the monotony of the score, its removal is for the better. The act one finale is the generic, pedestrian "Saturday Night in the City." At the curtain, director and choreography, seemingly desperate to create some excitement, insert the Flashdance image of Jennifer Beals with head and back bent backward over a chair being drenched by a barrelful of water. Not only is this diversion to Pittsburgh gratuitous, but there is no attempt to capture the erotic intensity which made Flashdance a landmark movie of sorts.
It is notable that two of the most character defining and theatrically effective songs in The Wedding Singer are the hard edged "Somebody Kill Me Please" and the utterly charming "Grow Old With You," each written by Sandler and Herlihy for the original film.
The Wedding Singer performed from February 5 through February 10, 2008 at Prudential Hall at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC), One Center Street, N Newark, N.J., 07102. Box Office: 888-466-5722; online: www.njpac.org
The Wedding Singer Music by Matthew Sklar, Lyrics by Chad Beguelin, Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy; direction by John Rando recreated by Paul Stancato
Tour Schedule 2008
February 12 - February 17
For more information, visit www.theweddingsingerontour.com.