The Wedding Singer
Also see David's review of Radio Golf
The essential story, adapted by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy from Herlihy’s own screenplay, is largely faithful to the tone and characters of the film. Set firmly (and with tongue squarely planted in cheek) in the 1980s, it’s the story of second rate wedding singer Robbie Hart who early on is dumped by his own fiancee from hell Linda, then takes a shine to catering waitress Julia Sullivan. Julia however becomes engaged to tacky and unfaithful Wall Street player Glen Guglia, even as she is noticing her own feelings for Robbie. Thanks to the efforts of Robbie’s Grandma Rosie, and Robbie and Julia’s wacky yet loving friends, and despite myriad complications involving Glen and Linda, Robbie and Julia manage to tie the knot by the end of the show.
Director John (Urinetown) Rando elicits a bevy of fine performances from a dream supporting cast, and paces the show at a clip that rarely lets up in the 2-1/2 hour (plus intermission) running time, but he hasn’t quite solved the problem of doing an Adam Sandler vehicle without Adam Sandler. Acclaimed stand-up comedian Stephen Lynch spends so much of the show trying to not remind us of Sandler (a daunting task) that he never quite develops a comic persona of his own for his Robbie Hart. The golden-voiced Laura Benanti, a shining talent in such Broadway revivals as Nine and Into the Woods, simply doesn’t seem a comfortable fit in the role of Julia. Composer Matthew Sklar and co-author/lyricist Beguelin have concocted some good numbers for the leads, though Sklar’s often engaging music is a few notches above Beguelin’s rarely more than serviceable lyrics. I would single out the show’s theme song “It’s Your Wedding Day,” the kooky duet “Come Out of the Dumpster,” Robbie and Julia’s duets “Not That Kind of Thing,” “If I Told You,” and “Grow Old With You” as winning moments in the score.
But the songwriters have given some of their very best material to Amy Spanger as Julia’s confidante Holly (“Right in Front of Your Eyes”), and Felicia Finley’s Linda (“A Note From Linda” and “Let Me Come Home”). Ms. Spanger in fact is the standout talent in the show, singing and dancing up a storm, and nailing every laugh line she’s handed. Meaning no offense at all to Ms. Benanti, one wonders if Rando and the authors might think of promoting Spanger to the starring role of Julia and paring down the presently overemphasized role of Holly. As for Ms. Finley, her bizarre, Amazonian nut-case portrayal of Linda is an utter riot and the most unique comic creation on the stage, even as you momentarily question what Robbie Hart ever saw in her.
Obviously Rita Gardner who plays Grandma Rosie has been taking a few nips from the fountain of youth, for this veteran performer (the original Off-Broadway Luisa in The Fantasticks), even when outfitted ala The Golden Girls Sophia, looks great, and she sounds even better in her musical numbers, including a rap duet “Move That Thang” with the splendid Kevin Cahoon, who transcends his Boy George-like gay stereotype role as Robbie’s band pal George in an utterly winning performance. Matthew Salidivar does similar wonders as dumb as a rock band musician Sammy, who ends up as Holly’s main squeeze. As the show’s nominal bad guy, Richard H. Blake gives far more to the role of oily Glen Guglia than the authors gave him to work with.Rob Ashford whips up a lot of high energy dance numbers, but really only hits a home run with the act one finale “Saturday Night in the City” which again has the tremendously talented Amy Spanger front and center, leading an expert and wonderfully varied ensemble of singer-dancers. Scott Pask’s scenic designs are accentuated by a number of wonderful, funny set pieces, but he overdoes the neon lights, even by eighties standards. Costume designer Gregory Gale and Hair Designer totally capture the look of the '80s styles in fashion and hair, and yes many folks did look that way.
The packed opening night audience at The Wedding Singer gave it a solid ovation. It is a show you can’t help rooting for, and smiling at, and liking. Now it’s up to its creators to make it a show to love, and that doesn’t appear to be out of their grasp.
The Wedding Singer pre-Broadway Premiere engagement runs through February 19 at the 5th Avenue Theatre 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Visit the 5th Avenue's web-site at www.5thavenuetheatre.org for further details.