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Cincinnati by Scott Cain

The Wedding Singer
Northern Kentucky University

Also see Scott's review of Legally Blonde the Musical

Katy Miller and Noah Berry
The musical version of The Wedding Singer only lasted a short time on Broadway back in 2006. This year, the show is being mounted by a number of high schools (which seems odd with its somewhat risque language and themes) and is also the current production for Northern Kentucky University - Department of Theatre & Dance. It is a fun show with its share of high points and flaws, and NKU's staging boasts two excellent lead performances, strong choreography, and a heavy dose of 1980s nostalgia that is totally rad!

Based on the 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the musical tells the story of Robbie Hart, a successful New Jersey wedding singer who, while at his own ceremony, is dumped at the altar by his fiancée Linda. With the help of his friends, and especially a reception hall waitress named Julia, Robbie tries to find self-worth, direction, love, and purpose for his life.

The book for the musical, by Chad Beguelin and original film screenwriter Tim Herlihy, generally follows the film outline, but has a number of plot variations which allow for a bit more efficient storytelling and theatrical antics. The three main differences are that Robbie now lives with his grandma (who also melds with the old lady character from the movie), he goes to work on Wall Street for Julia's fiancé Glen, and there's a whole scene in Las Vegas where Robbie tries to stop Julia and Glen's wedding with the help of some '80s celebrity impersonators. There's a lot of '80s humor throughout, much of which is very funny, though there are a few groaners. In general, the story is fairly formulaic, with sufficient romance and heart, but also a good deal of crassness and camp.

The mostly '80s pastiche score by Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics) has a few very good songs, but too often matches the decade's sound musically (in addition to the quite accurate orchestrations) without achieving the quality and craftsmanship expected for Broadway show tunes. Many of the lyrics likewise have funny period references, but are often too unsophisticated and merely adequate. There are a few extremely effective songs, however, that lift the quality level much higher. The best new songs include "Someday," Julia's "want song" describing her desire to get married; "Come Out of the Dumpster"; and "If I Told You," one of the most beautiful show tunes from Broadway during the 2000s. This duet for Robbie and Julia has simple, straightforward lyrics which bare the soul, and a gorgeous melody with lovely harmony and counterpoint.

For the NKU mounting, Director Michael W. Hatton provides a solid, though rarely inspired, staging of the piece, with a few directorial touches that add to the theatricality of the show nicely. The pace is a bit slow in places, but the tone is just right and the interrelationships of the characters come across as genuine. Choreographer Tracey Bonner provides fun period dances which nicely showcase the cast's abilities and enhance the production substantially. The nine-piece band led by Damon Stevens couldn't sound any better.

As Robbie, Noah Berry is a great fit both vocally and acting-wise, with sharp and textured singing and presenting multiple sides of the character effectively. Two songs from the film, "Somebody Kill Me" and "Grow Old with Me" (both written by Herlihy and Adam Sandler), also appear in the musical, and Mr. Berry delivers both skillfully. Kathryn Miller does a wonderful job conveying the necessary sweetness of girl-next-door Julia, and sings in an easygoing and natural manner perfect for the part and very pleasing to the ear. These two performances are top-notch and provide a firm foundation for the production.

As Grandma Rosie, Mary Kate Vanegas is appropriately campy and hilarious, and adds a lot of heart to the show. Cody Dale provides strong vocals and is aptly slimy as Glen. Ellie Chancellor (Holly) is a great dancer, and possesses a strong singing voice, but both she and Emily Fry (Linda) need better diction in their singing so that all of the lyrics can be understood. Taylor Greatbatch is sufficiently flamboyant and humorous as George, and Xander Wells does fine as Sammy. The hard working ensemble executes the many dances very well and provides solid support throughout.

The simplistic sets by Emily Graver effectively convey the various locales and 1980s feel, but rely too much on clunky modular pieces and aren't overly visually appealing. Costumes by Ronnie Chamberlain are certainly period appropriate, and have just the right level of campiness to them. The lighting by Larry Csernik and sound by Kevin Havlin are apt, though the balance between the singers and the band during some of the more rockin' numbers was off at the performance I attended

The Wedding Singer isn't a great show, but it is a fun and entertaining one which is especially appropriate with the resurgence of 1980s nostalgia, and it contains a couple of awesome songs. NKU's production features talented performers and lively period dances in a solid mounting.

The Wedding Singer continues at NKU in Highland Heights, Kentucky, through November 2, 2014. Tickets may be ordered by calling (859) 572-5464.

Photo: Tyler Gabbard

-- Scott Cain

Also see the current Cincinnati Area Theatre Schedule

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