Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
The curtain rises on the Touch of Class catering hall in New Jersey during the 1980s, and the script makes good sport of both Garden State and Reagan-era stereotypes. A wedding is underway, with the festivities led by Robbie Hart, the titular singer, and his band. Robbie wrote the song, "It's Your Wedding Day," with a tune so catchy and optimistic that it has made him the most sought after wedding entertainer west of the Hudson. It is a great opening number, serving up a brew of positivity, sentimentality and unleashed inhibitions.
The reason for his great success as a wedding singer is that Robbie really believes in the romance attached to weddings, and is about to embark his own. He is devastated when his hard-rock loving fiancée Linda bails on him, and he retreats to his room in Grandma Rosie's basement. His bandmates, Sammy (dense, but good hearted) and George (whose sexual orientation is evident to everyone but Sammy) do their best to cheer him up, but his new friend, Juliaa waitress at Touch of Classhas the best results in bringing Robbie out of the dumps. Julia herself recently became engaged to Glen, an ambitious player on Wall Street, so the JuliaRobbie thing is strictly a friendship. And if you believe that, I refer you to the films of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.
So the story is kind of predictable, and nothing in it really challenges us in a horizon-expanding way. It isfor every minute of its running timefun. Aside from the boss opening, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin's score includes a half dozen songs that are catchy, capture the '80s pop music ambience, and move the plot (always a good thing). Several songs lampoon the 1980s heavy metal vein, not very good examples of the genre, but providing the intended humor. "Saturday Night in the City" and "All About the Green" make for terrific production numbers to close act one and open act two, respectively. A charming song from the movie, "Grow Old with You," is wisely included in Robbie and Julia's climactic scene. Tim Herlihy re-works his original screenplay with co-book writer Chad Beguelin, keeping the romantic spirit, good-hearted humor, and abundant '80s references, such as "Sweating to the Oldies," parachute pants, shoe-box sized car phones, and "Kiss my grits!" One very funny sequence includes impersonators of '80s pop icons such as Cindy Lauper, Billy Idol, and Tina Turner, as well as the Gipper himself, Ronald Reagan.
The Old Log cast is grade A throughout, and Libby Anderson, as Julia, gives a star-making performance, building on notable work this past year in The Pirates of Penzance, Next to Normal, and Pioneer Suite. With her beautiful voice, strong acting and lovely appearance, we will be hearing and seeing a lot more of Ms. Anderson. Eric Morris also makes a strong impression as Robbie, capturing the boyish charm that Adam Sandler brought to the movie, but with far better singing. He and Anderson have a chemistry together that goes a long way to making the show work, especially put to good effect in "If I Told You."
Carolyn Schmitz is terrific as Julia's wise-cracking cousin Holly who discovers the key to a love of her own in "Right in Front of Your Eyes." Philip C. Matthews as Julia's fiancé Glen, brings precisely the right amount of smarmy arrogance to his part, and Kaylyn Forkey gives Robbie's ex Linda a perfectly '80s take on an airhead rock goddess. Mathias Becker and Caleb Fritz Craig are Robbie's bandmates and friends, and both mine the comic gold in these characters: Sammy, the lovable lunkhead, and George, whose style and demeanor mirror another '80s icon, Boy George. Finally, Broadway and Twin Cities theater veteran Melissa Hart is a warm-hearted sparkplug as Rosie, Robbie's grandmother who knows a thing or two about life in the '80s.
Regina Peluso's choreography is inventivea zombie-themed dance is much more fun than it sounds, "Saturday Night in the City" gives us an all-stops-out party, and the dance for "It's My Wedding Day" captures the exhausting joy of the occasion, including the requisite line dance. Erik Paulson's set and light designs work well to establish various localesa bridal shop, the mall, an upscale restaurant, Glen's office, Robbie's basement digs, all moving in and out with the Touch of Class in the background. The costumes by Sara Wilcox capture the "what were they thinking" styles of the 1980s, with appropriately big hairstyles created by someone with the cleverly coined name Hair-o-Smith. Jeff Geisler's sound design makes the lyrics easy to hear in the barn-like Old Log, even as they project the ear-splitting metal sounds that slip in from time to time.
Is The Wedding Singer the show of the season? No. Is it ground breaking? Hardly. But, in addition to a great star performance by Libby Anderson, it provides a well-crafted good time and rewards those who believe in the power of pure hearts and happy endings. It is the theatrical equivalent of wedding cake: even though we know there are more nourishing and more flavorful wares in the bakery, the fairy-tale frosting and sentiment of a wedding cake produce waves of good will that are hard to resistand who would want to?
The Wedding Singer continues through February 20, 2016, at Old Log Theatre, 5185 Meadville Street, Excelsior, MN. Tickets are $29.00 -$40.00, $20.00 for students with valid IDs, $3.00 per ticket service fee for phone and online ticket sales. Wednesday 1:30 PM matinees are general admission. For tickets call 952-474-5951 or go to www.oldlog.com.
Book: Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy; Music: Matthew Sklar; Lyrics: Chad Beguelin; Based on the New Line Cinema film written by Tim Herlihy; Director: R. Kent Knutson; Music Director and Conductor: Kyle Picha; Choreography: Regina Peluso; Scenic and Lighting Designer: Erik Paulson; Costume Designer: Sara Wilcox; Sound Designer: Jeff Geisler; Hair Stylist: Hair-O-Smith, Stage Manager: Aaron P. Wheeler.
Cast: Libby Anderson (Julia Sullivan), Mathias Becker (Sammy), Caleb Fritz Craig (George), Kaylyn Forkey (Linda), Melissa Hart (Grandma Rosie), Philip C. Matthews (Glen Guglia), Eric Morris (Robbie Hart), Carolyn Schmitz (Holly), Maisie K. Twesme (Angie).
Ensemble: Rush Benson, Renee Guittar, Bridgette Karl, Kevin Korczynski, Lars Lee, Kelly Matthews, Kole Nelson, M. Scott Taulman, Nikki Zwolski.