WEST VALLEY CITY– I confess—it has been a week since I attended The Wedding Singer at Hale Center Theatre in West Valley. Regardless of every best intention, this review has been rather long in coming. Though some might wonder if I’ve been slow to post based on a negative experience, I can’t emphasize how far from the truth that is. I have found myself reflecting on the show frequently and frankly, I intend to return to see the other cast.
Based on the 1998 film starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, The Wedding Singer follows Robbie Hart, the lead singer of a reception hall band, as he recovers from a broken engagement by inconveniently falling for his charming co-worker, Julia, who has just been engaged to her longtime, Wall Street investor boyfriend. The stage production premiered on Broadway in 2006 and received five Tony nominations. Typically small adaptations are made to the film’s plot details that may actually make the story a little stronger (such as converting Rosie from Robbie’s sweet, elderly neighbor to his own grandmother). Fans of the movie may miss the dozens of classic 80’s hits, but the show’s original music certainly draws on key musical themes to evoke a similar feeling. And in spite of the edits to some of Adam Sandler’s more colorful original lyrics, fans will be glad to recognize two songs from the film—“Somebody Kill Me” and “I Wanna Grow Old With You.”
Though I thoroughly enjoyed myself from the moment I walked in the door and was overwhelmed by stereotypically tacky 80’s-inspired wedding decorations oozing over every inch of the foyer, it is not to say the show is a perfect one. The script is not very strong, being cluttered with blatant, totally awesome 80’s references (which did seem to be general crowd pleasers, however—probably because the audience got to feel so “inside”), particularly scenes added to the stage production that seem unnecessary or out of place. One such scene is Robbie and Julia’s first meeting which has been extended to include a rather misplaced song, clearly intended to establish their potential relationship, but it feels awkward since the audience has not had enough time to warm up to either character yet.
Scene changes tend to be clunky at best, though I imagine these will smooth over. Sets are fun and effective once they’ve been placed, but some slow changes cause scenes to start clumsily. In addition, some sets are so large and the stage is so filled by a big cast, that it causes the few simple scenes to be less effective. A lot of the comedy at the Shapiro’s Bar Mitzvah seemed to fall flat since an expectantly rowdy Jewish party was limited merely to the band. Multifaceted scenes playing throughout the various parts of the theater also make it occasionally difficult to follow the story or even determine which character is speaking.
Luckily, the cast of 25 exudes such a contagious energy that it is difficult to focus on technical short-comings. Choreography by Jennifer Hill Barlow is perfectly reminiscent of the 1980s and notably accounts for the size of the cast and the stage. Kelly DeHaan’s music direction is clearly evident in the strength of powerful vocals in solos and in the ensemble. Standout songs include “Single” and the moving love duet, “If I Told You.” Direction by David Nieman effectively walks the fine line between celebrating and poking fun at the fades and foibles of the time. The performance on a whole comes together seamlessly in the hilarious “Casualty of Love,” a throwback to the J. Geils Band song “Love Stinks”—complete with a Michael Jackson “Thriller” dance break.
Derek Smith and Breanne Briggs successfully reinvent Robbie and Julia in the Monday-Wednesday-Friday cast. Smith is endearing, possesses great comic timing, and showcases impressive skill with the guitar. He is at his best after he’s had some time to warm up and be let loose. Briggs is charming and sweet with a lovely voice, and an unassuming air makes her humor even stronger, such as in the song “Come Out of the Dumpster.” They are well supported by Ashley Kathryn Mayfield as spunky and ditzy Holly with her “Flashdance” throwback; Christopher Squires as Robbie’s slightly misguided but funny and well-wigged friend Sammy; and Adam Millington as slimy but successful Glen Gulia. Matt Baxter gives a subtle and winning performance as effeminate George, and Maxine Summers as Rosie positively steals each of her scenes with lovable sweetness, honesty, and a real knack for making the audience laugh.
Despite the occasionally exhausting spectacle of the show that definitely caused some annoying technical problems (mics going out and a distractingly, heart-stoppingly slippery floor, to name a few), this is a great show. The music is fun, performances are memorable, and the wigs and costumes are so bad (in the good way) that you’ll find looking for any excuse to wear shoulder pads and tease your hair.