The Wedding Singer (David Venn Enterprises)
HOTA, Home of the Arts
June 18 – 26
It’s 1985, a time of denim, ruffles, leather and lace, oversized gadgetry and technicolour everything… and “The Wedding Singer” has it all in abundance. The musical comedy, based on the hit 1998 rom-com movie of the same name staring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, celebrates it all. And while it may not necessarily be as charming as its source material, the on-stage trip down a memory lane of perms, pastels and parachute pants is still loads of fun.
The plot is essentially that of the movie. The title character, New Jersey’s Robbie Hart (Christian Charisiou) is a life-of-the-party wanna-be rock star who fronts a wedding band with his two buddies, bass guitarist Sammy (Haydan Hawkins) and keyboard player George (Ed Deganos), revelling in the notion of happily ever after… until he is left at the alter by his fiancé Linda (Kirby Burgess). His resurrection from an ensuring bitter depression (resulting in ruin of others’ weddings through his morose lyrics and lacklustre performances) comes from a connection with kind-hearted waitress Julia (Teagan Wouters) who unfortunately already has a Wall Street boyfriend, Glen (Stephen Mahy).
While things take a while to gain momentum, the story (book by Tim Herlihy, who also wrote the movie’s screenplay) is soon moving along with songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, including some huge power ballads, like the hyper-emotional breakup letter ‘A Note From Linda’ and her later ‘Let Me Come Home’, where, looking a lot like the girl from ‘November Rain’, Burgess belts out her epic vocals accompanied with some sexy Whitesnake vixen moves.
Another highlight comes courtesy of Act One’s ‘Causality of Love’ from Robbie and Company. The dynamite number encapsulates the show’s high energy and tight dchoreography, complete with some ‘Thriller’ moves that are absolutely in sync across all of the dancers. Of-the-era references abound throughout the musical, in Michael Ralph’s choreographic nods to movies like “Flashdance” and music videos like Madonna’s ‘Material Girl’, but also within the lyrics of the upbeat opener ‘It’s Your Wedding Day’. And its soundtrack certainly reflects the eclecticism of the era, with recognisable musical sensibilities from new wave, dance-pop, glam metal and even some rap (‘Move That Thang’) from Robbie’s sassy grandmother Rosie (Susan-Ann Walker).
Kim Bishop’s nostalgic costume design also catalogues the era in all of its excess… with puffy sleeves, sequins and polyester, plus, in particular in the punchy ‘It’s All About The Green’, shoulder power dressing when Robbie tries to get a job on Wall Street like Glen in order impress Julia. And Nathan Weyers’s low-fuss set design is entirely appropriate in its backdrop of all the action and colour, especially in the show’s later scenes which see Robbie and his friends teaming up with a group of Vegas impersonators to attempt to stop Julia’s wedding to Glen. Indeed, this becomes a real highlight as audience members reconcile which celebrities are being impersonated on stage, thanks to the talents of the ensemble as much as the costumes and Drew-Elizabeth Jonstone’s hair and make-up design.
Filling the shoes of the characters of an iconic movie is always going to be a difficult task and while Charisiou and Wouters do a good job, once they are settled into their story, the most dynamic appearances come courtesy of the supporting characters. Nadia Komazec is an absolute delight as Julia’s pocket-rocket personality-plus friend and fellow waitress Holly who, in contrast to Julia, is uninhibited and forward. Her comic timing brings about many of the show’s laughs. And although not terribly bright, but terribly persistent in his attempts to reunite with Holly, Sammy’s well-meaning support is what ultimately shines through in Hawkins’ performance, making him an endearing audience favourite for more than just his Bon Jovi hair.
“The Wedding Singer” is a feel-good musical that, under Alister Smith’s direction, doesn’t take itself too seriously in its colourful celebration of everything ‘80s. With a lively score (Musical Director Daniel Puckey) and energetic performance, there is much to love about its infectious, fizzy fun, making it the ultimate either reminder of or insight into the era of excess.
Photos c/o – Nicole Clearly