In recent years, the trend on Broadway has been to abandon originality for reworking existing stories, most often those of hit movies, especially hit movies to which a musical score can be added.
There have been many of these, popularly referred to as “Jukebox Musicals.” They vary in theatrical strength, most often relying on LOUD as their key ingredient. They also vary in longevity, depending on their level of production.
Director/choreographer Scott Michaels has worked his magic on the current Wagon Wheel Theatre production of the Broadway version of the 1998 Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore comedy “The Wedding Singer.”
The core of this transformation relies on several ingredients: A talented cast, thoroughly engaging leads, amazing choreography and killer vocals which leave your eardrums (almost) in tact. Well, it is set in the ‘80s which I recall was a very loud decade.
The score, well-played as always by conductor/keyboardist Thomas N. Stirling and the eight talented musicians who make up his “pit band” (literally), is definitely not memorable. But, as they say, sometimes the strength is in the doing and Wagon Wheel does it right.
“The Wedding Singer” is the 400th production of Warsaw’s theater-in-the-round which began as a gravel-floored tent and is now one of the most highly respected summer theaters in the country.
On opening night Wednesday, about 900 “guests” came to the wedding and, obviously friends of the bride AND groom, stayed through the quite ridiculous finale, loving every minute of it.
Matt Hill is Robbie Hart, guitarist and lead singer of the band Simply Wed. He is in love with love and with fiancé Linda (Alexandra Howley) who, unfortunately turns out to fit the very unflattering description delivered by his feisty grandmother Rosie (Jennifer Dow at her geriatric best!).
He is rescued from the dumpster of depression by Julia Sullivan (Stephanie Cowan), a waitress at the wedding facility where his band plays. Together, Hill and Cowan make a really adorable and completely sympathetic couple. She has a naturally warm and clear soprano which makes her solos thoroughly enjoyable. His baritone fits beautifully in their several duets and, like Cowan, he can belt or sustain a solo note without rupturing your eardums. His comic timing is excellent and he never overdoes.
As the duo’s definitely-not-the-right-mate-material, Rob Montgomery and Howley are the fiancés you love to hate. He is Glen Guglia, a Wall Street sleaze whose priorities are “All About the Green.” She dumps Robbie when he fails to become a rock star. Both meet their musical just rewards and if Linda’s “Let Me Come Home” sounds like a ballad title, you couldn’t be more wrong!
Robbie’s band mates are his best friend Sammy (Matthew Janisse), who is holding on to the single life in spite of an increasing reconnection to Julia’s best friend Holly (Leigh Ellen Jones), and George (Dereck Seay), a soulful portable keyboard player whose resemblance — vocal and coiffure-wise — to Boy George is unmistakable. His rap with Rosie is a highlight of the second act and, even though fairly unintelligible, is a well-deserved show-stopper.
It’s the ‘80s, so of course the girls are on the hunt for a man to “Pop” (the question), while the boys’ interest is in having their cake and —well, you know. It’s the age-old battle of the sexes and there’s no mistaking the results.
The multi-level set designed by Michael Higgins and Terry Julien and lit above and below by Patrick Chan, allows the action to move to many locations (and gives the WW stage crew a real workout!). Stephen R. Hollenbeck’s return-to-the-‘80s costumes are spot-on and whether at a wedding or a disco, add much to the ambiance of the wild-and-wooly decade.
If the final confrontations are most recognizable to TV fans of that period, they certainly are good for leaving the whole audience laughing. And retrospectively, wasn’t that what it was all about?
”THE WEDDING SINGER” plays through July 27 in the theater at 2517 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call 267-8041 or (800) 823-2618 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.com