Review: The Wedding Singer – an awesome 80s fest, but where’s the beef?

While audiences may leave the Jericho Arts Centre wondering “where’s the beef?” like I did at the end of the Fighting Chance Productions presentation of The Wedding Singer, the show still managed to be a fun evening of “awesome” 80s music, fads and fashion.

Closely following the storyline from the Drew Barrymore/Adam Sandler film, The Wedding Singer sees Robbie Hart (Andrew Halliwell) fronting a band specializing in wedding receptions in New Jersey.  Ironically he finds himself jilted at the altar by his “skanky” fiancée (Jessica Kelly).  Robbie soon finds himself falling for waitress Julia Sullivan (Lexy Campbell); problem is Julia is already betrothed to Wall Street junk bond king Glen Guglia (Tyson Coady).  Even for those that have not seen the movie it isn’t hard to imagine what happens next.

The Wedding Singer
The cast of the Fighting Chance Productions presentation of The Wedding Singer.

Parachute pants, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, huge cell phones, Cyndi Lauper, $900 CD players, Mike Score’s hair, all get stage time here in an over-the-top, throw-in-the-kitchen-sink sea of 80s popular (and not so popular) references.  But it is exactly this no holds “to the max” mentality from Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin, and Tim Herlihy that helps make The Wedding Singer, with its mostly forgettable music and songs, so “radically tubular”.  But after the first act it all begins to wear a little thin.

While Halliwell gets the charming and vulnerable Hart character down just right and Campbell’s Julia is mercifully devoid of any Barrymore impersonation, I did find a lack of connection between the two as their relationship builds.  But that is probably due to the break-neck speed that Director Ryan Mooney pushes through the material that doesn’t allow what little “beef” there is to sizzle.

Despite the non-stop 80s fun, this is the biggest complaint I had with the show – at two and a half hours (including intermission) – The Wedding Singer is too long to sustain itself.  While I can appreciate the reluctance to tamper with a playwright’s work, the show definitely could use a good dose of judicious cuts (starting with Granny’s second and third verse in “Move That Thang”) so that some of the relationships that are glossed over here might have an opportunity to raise the show beyond its simple time warp.

Other worthy mentions within this large cast (proudly announced as Fighting Chance’s largest) include Sean Parsons as the androgynous George (although I did find myself thinking more Jack Sparrow than George O’Dowd at first) and Coady’s arrogant take on the 80s equivalent of a Goldman Sachs executive.

Choreographer Anna Hassard does a decent job with this large cast but finds herself hampered by the size of the Jericho stage and some of the set elements.  She manages to get a lot from the actors but at times the frenetic pace that the rest of the show suffers from was also evident in some of the larger dance numbers, making it feel just a little messy at times.  Stand outs here include the act one finale “Saturday Night in the City” and the homage to Wall Street greed, “All About The Green” ably helped out by the small band led by Music Director Chris King and Assistant Musical Director, Stewart Yu.

Once again, Fighting Chance finds the sound gods are against them.  This has been a recurring problem for this small company and unfortunately The Wedding Singer is no exception.  Right out the gates microphones failed and while occasionally they kicked in, for the most part we did strain a bit to hear the singers above the band.  Let’s hope that the sound issues can be rectified soon for a show like this, with little meat on its bones, can use all the help it can get.

I am sure no one in this energetic and likeable cast would argue that The Wedding Singer is anything more than a fluffy fun romp through a decade that gave us such gems as Alf.  And while Clara Peller may indeed be shouting from beyond the grave at the very thought of this show, like come on, dude, just what did you expect from a musical based on an Adam Sandler movie anyway?  At least they left out the vomit jokes.

Totally. For sure.

3 out of 5 StarsThe Wedding Singer
Jericho Arts Centre
27 April – 22 May 2010

Tickets are $25-$30, available by reserving online, at the door or by calling 604-224-8007, ext. 3.

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