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The Wedding Singer
by Rob Kendt

A guitar pick, a sweat towel, a bouquet, a garter, a light dusting of glitter or petals—these are the airborne goodies a few lucky theatergoers might walk away with from The Wedding Singer, the eager-to-be-loved new Broadway musical version of the sneakily charming 1998 Adam Sandler film vehicle. The rest of us are likely to walk away from this pleasant but pointless tuner with an embarrassing, almost unimaginable thought: that what we really wanted to hear was more Dead Or Alive, Spandau Ballet and Kajagoogoo.

©2006 Joan Marcus
Stephen Lynch & Laura Benanti
in The Wedding Singer
As endearingly hard as this new Wedding Singer works to evoke the cheesy excesses of the Reagan years, the creators—book writer/lyricist Chad Beguelin, original screenwriter Tim Herlihy and composer Matthew Sklar—have made their job still harder by booking a nostalgia cruise minus the original soundtrack. Sklar's new songs knowingly cite hair-metal power chords, New Wave keyboard riffs and the herky-jerky beats of early hip-hop; and there's no mistaking repeated nods to the magisterial synth fanfare of Van Halen's "Jump." But what's the point of wallowing in the guilty pleasures of a dubious musical era with simulated junk? It's like a vending machine stocked with RC Cola.

But if the score never rises above the generic, director John Rando's production does have a breezy, assured snap, and Rob Ashford's choreography shamelessly samples early MTV with crowd-pleasing abandon. The laughs not provided by breakdancing or headbanging come from the show's relentless design riffs: Scott Pask's Nagel-meets-Jersey Shore sets, Gregory Gale's judiciously tacky costumes and, perhaps most important for the decade that brought us Flock of Seagulls and Dee Snider, David Brian Brown's wigs.

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The one oversight in Brown's meticulous hair design, actually, is the lack of one for the title character, Robbie Hart (Stephen Lynch), who has shed the risible mullet-pompadour of the film (and earlier previews of the stage show) for a timeless Everyguy do. This isn't an incidental lapse: It embodies the musical's other big confusion about what made the film special, in its hangdog way. Sandler's Robbie was a laconic loser in a seedy dead-end career who had the ironic grace to laugh at himself, which made him irresistible to another wayward heart, Julia, played by Drew Barrymore. In the musical, though, Robbie is a mildly quirky, clean-cut troubadour, and Laura Benanti's perky cater-waitress, Julia, comes off a bit like Laverne or Shirley's more subdued sister. What's the problem? These two kids are made for each other, and their bland romance, which reaches its highest point during a giddy trip to the mall, doesn't evoke the '80s so much as the sock-hop '50s.

That leaves the supporting cast and a versatile ensemble to take up the slack, which they do with otherworldly energy and appropriate sketch-comedy relish. Amy Spanger, as the obligatory Madonna manq
©2006 Joan Marcus
Amy Spanger & Matthew Saldivar
in The Wedding Singer
ué, whines and flounces winningly, while Kevin Cahoon, though deprived of any actual Culture Club tunes, supplies both the essential Boy George vibe and some of the winks the show is missing. As a plug-dumb townie schlub, Matthew Saldivar makes the most of a part that seems to consist mostly of period name-checks (remember McRibs?).

Giving the show its kitschiest kinks is Felicia Finley as Robbie's ex, Linda. Talk about a twisted sister: Dressed in lingerie outerwear that shows off a disconcertingly butch physique somewhere between stripper and wrestler, Finley belts a pair of metal scorchers more frightening than funny—though it's hard not to laugh at a witty wind-in-hair effect, or at the way she generates music-video steam by kicking a basement water-heater.

By the finale, The Wedding Singer has pulled out every stop in the '80s organ, imagining a Vegas wedding chapel full of celebrity look-alikes, including Ronnie and Nancy. And while I must salute a show with the cornball chutzpah to have Reagan quip to Tina Turner, "Miss Turner, knock down this putz," in good conscience I can only recommend this show to diehard fans of shoulder-pads, leg warmers and the video for "Thriller."

The Wedding Singer
Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy
Music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Al Hirschfeld Theatre

Print This Story / Send the Story to a Friend / 4/27/2006 5:20:00 PM

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