Ah, The Wedding Singer: a relic of the golden days when Adam Sandler was actually funny.
The movie may well be the pinnacle of his career: a quirky comedy with a lot of heart and a lot of 80s songs. Sounds like the perfect recipe for another pop-culture musical. While the script is maybe longer than necessary (though some of those extraneous scenes are definitely there to cover costume changes), it retells the story with the same gusto as the movie. Some characters and relationships are tweaked, and some locations are changed to make it more playable on the stage, but all major elements are the same, and it makes for a solid adaption.
The story follows wedding band singer Robbie Hart, who is in love with love, at least until his fiancé breaks things off with him. He takes the first steps to recovering from his heartbreak with the help of a waitress he works with, Julia Sullivan. He begins to fall for her, but unfortunately, she’s engaged to the rich, sleazy yuppie Glen Gulia and ready to become cursed with the name Julia Gulia. She’s ready, at least, until she starts to question whether her connection with Glen is as meaningful as she thought. Musical comedy antics ensue.
The first act definitely had some rough patches, especially the first song — various members of the ensemble had trouble finding the right beat of the measure to start singing, and some had trouble stepping in time with their choreography. Julia’s mic also created a very distracting echo effect for a while. As the show went on, however, things smoothed out, and as the cast relaxed into the show, so did the audience (except maybe those parents in the front row who kept giving each other looks as they realized this show might have been too risqué for their kids, especially when Robbie’s ex-girlfriend started humping a drunk Robbie on his bed, singing “Let Me Come Home”).
It’s nearly impossible to watch the lead actor and actress without comparing them to the film. Patrick Spain as Robbie Hart has much more boyish charm than Adam Sandler ever had, but he also hams it up enough to do justice to the role’s originator. One can’t help but be reminded of Drew Barrymore when they see Julia Bush as Julia Sullivan. She also has a lovely, Disney princess-esque voice, and I hope her character’s warmth shines through more as the production goes on. While their chemistry wasn’t exactly heated (though when they were pushed into their first kiss, the tension paid off nicely), the two were sweet together.
Dan McGary is both amusing and endearing as George, the effeminate Boy George wannabe who does his best to sex up singing in Hebrew; his physicality adds touches of subtle humor. Charles Adam Robinson makes Glen Gulia the slimeball you love to hate, though there were a few scenes it felt like he was holding back — he can definitely play it bigger and free of restraint without having to worry about overdoing it. Also, the six ensemble members who played the celebrity impersonators were a real treat: Matt Downey, Rob Smart, Dave Hobbs, Cynthia Mackey, Leah Heffington, and Edilen Obamos are hard to peel your eyes from when they are onstage.
Costume designer Lisa Bobotas produced an impressive array of 101 costumes — the number comes from a boast on the Generic Theater’s Facebook page. All are 80s inspired or genuine 80s vintage. The number of quick changes that takes place make the wardrobe all the more impressive. And the hair and wigs, styled by Marilyn Abernathy, are the cherries on top of each ensemble, perfectly completing each look.
The set, designed by director James Bryan, appears deceptively simple at first glance, but hiding behind those pipe-and-drape curtains are some really sharp set pieces, from the wedding venue’s back-alley dumpster that Julia has to coax Robbie out of in “Come Out of the Dumpster” to the bed and hot water heater (that blasts “steam” during “Let Me Come Home”) in Robbie’s basement bedroom. The set design also limits the amount of space the actors have to work in, but James Bryan’s direction makes good and full use of it — especially that balcony.
Heather Butterbaugh’s lighting design makes beautiful use of color. It sets the party mood during “Saturday Night in the City,” and it does the same as Robbie stands outside Julia’s window during “If I Told You,” the cool color of moonlight washes over him while she stands in the warmth of lamplight in her bedroom. The footlights are also splendid — their use of the titular color during “All About the Green,” along with the use of space, choreography and uniform-like 80s office clothes in shades of white and grey (especially Glen’s excellent suit that placed him squarely at the top of the food chain), made that scene one of the most striking and artistically cohesive to watch in the entire show.
Shon Stacy’s choreography is filled with witty references to dances of the 1980s, from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to Jazzercize and beyond, and works well as long as the cast keeps time.
The Wedding Singer made for a fun night out. It might not be the most remarkable musical, as it’s eternally beholden to the movie, and you probably won’t be humming any of the songs (except maybe “Somebody Kill Me” or “Grow Old with You,” which came from the movie and don’t count), but it gives you warm fuzzies for a couple of hours, and sometimes that’s everything you could want or need. Its recipe of romance, silliness, and keen design elements make this musical comedy tasty light fare.
The Wedding Singer runs thru 7/16 at the Generic Theater. Thurs, Fri & Sat 8:00pm, Sun 2:30pm. Tix: $18 Reg; $15 Seniors, Military, Students; $12 Groups 10+. Call (757) 441-2160 or click here to reserve your seats. I get social anxiety at weddings, so let us know in the comments if you think this one is worth manning up and coming out to.