The Wedding Singer: A Review

When I first heard that The Wedding Singer was being adapted to a Broadway musical my feelings were mixed. I'm not a big fan of the cross-pollination of Broadway and Hollywood, especially the movie-to-musical phenomenon that The Producers begat. On the other hand I do love Adam Sandler movies, and I loved this one in particular.

The show is great. It helps tremendously that Tim Herlihy, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie, was involved in the adaptation of the show to stage. All of the jokes that worked so well in the movie are still in the show, though in some cases shifted to other characters or other situations. I was afraid that the lack of the great 80's songs would detract from the show, but the original songs that were written for the show had a great 80's feel, lot's of synthesizer and electronic drumlines, and evoked enough of the 80's that I didn't miss the others. The three original songs from the movies did make the transition to stage. All of the signature Sandler movie characters also made it to stage-- the homeless guy, the quietly gay character, the freakish ugly woman-- so the feel of the movie was firmly in place. The re-write to deal with the inability of the show to have Billy Idol as a star was nothing short of brilliant.

The director John Rando who won the Tony for Urinetown, was also a huge boon for this production. Several off kilter directorial decisions were necessary to make this production work on stage and Rando was certainly up to that task. The show was full of quirky, surreal moments that added to the hilarity of the show, as well as heightening the theatricality of the production.

The scenic design of the show, while not groundbreaking, was well done, with lots of great touches of detail. I especially enjoyed the New Jersey suburbia-scape background, the pastel pink and turquoise uber-80's design of the ballroom, and the solution for the scene outside Julia's bedroom window. The synergy between the design team, the writing team, and the direction created a formidable production, with lots of great moments.

There is a problem with this show however. Actually two. The leads. Neither of the leads, Stephen Lynch as Robbie or Laura Benanti as Julia had anywhere near the charm and sweetness of Sandler and Barrymore. Benanti was particularly bland, with very little to recommend her as a soulmate. Her voice is great, and she does great things with the songs that she is given, but her book moments are barely distinguishable from the ensemble. She does nothing to elevate Julia to the star level of the show, and is outplayed in every scene she appears in. Lynch has another problem to deal with, and that is the shadow of Adam Sandler. Tim Herlihy has written nearly every movie that Sandler has ever appeared in and he knows how to write for Sandler's acting style, and the quirks of his delivery. Lynch struggled on stage to find a way to deliver lines that were tailor made for Adam Sandler in his own voice. Sometimes he aped Sandler (the drunken wedding banquet performance after Linda leaves him) and at other times he attempted a more personal delivery (his interaction with his grandmother) that unfortunately fell flat. Sandler always comes off as if he is the only sane person surrounded by a world full of freaks and weirdos. Lynch fell to far into the latter, and was never able to climb back out.

The shining stars of this production are the supporting cast and ensemble. Every single scene is stolen by them, even when Robbie and Julia are the only people on stage. Felicia Finley as Robbie's fiance Linda especially stands out. Finley's Linda approaches every single moment of her life as if she were in a heavy metal music video. She performs splits, hair tosses, and thong revealing high kicks in ways that make them seem as if they are no more out of the ordinary that stepping when you walk. Linda is aided in this by several well placed interactions with scenery. Seemingly innocuous pieces of set dressing provide her with her own private wind machines, steam jets, and stripper poles. Her appearances on stage are the highlights of the show.

So... over all... great show, well written and produced... but unfortunately poorly cast. Fans of the 80's will be happy with it, and will enjoy the production. Fans of the movie will struggle to divorce Sandler and Barrymore from their familiar roles. Fans of musical theatre will like it if they fall more into the category of Full Monty fan than the category of Oklahoma fan.

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