Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy
Music by Matthew Sklar
Lyrics by Chad Beguelin
Based on the Screenplay by Tim Herlihy
Directed by John Campbell Finnegan
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents copyright © 2013 by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
As far as the catalog of movies-turned-into-Broadway-musicals goes, The Wedding Singer is never going to be on the top of anyone’s list, but it would also be far from the bottom. Considering that the 1998 Adam Sandler movie on which it’s based is hardly top-drawer source material, it’s a surprisingly fun show that should please fans of the film. It also ran barely six months on Broadway, which should tell you something.
Clarksville Little Theatre’s current production of the show throws caution to the wind and mounts a largely successful adaptation. It’s mostly well cast (with one glaring exception), and as directed by John Campbell Finnegan it sails along on the strength of one catchy ’80s-inspired musical number after another. There are some pacing issues, and the live band frequently drowns out the soloists. But if the enthusiastic opening night audience reaction is any indication, it’s a real crowd-pleaser.
It tells the story of Robbie (James Butterfield), a wedding singer, dumped on his own wedding day by his shallow fiance (Jess Harris). He would seek solace in the arms of caterer Julia (Heather Anderson), but she’s already engaged to Wall Street tycoon and all-around d-bag Glenn (Harrison Coffman).
While I thought both Butterfield and Anderson seemed a little long in the tooth for the two lead roles, Butterfield is surprisingly effective and melts into the character very nicely. When he’s not being drowned out by the band, he is in fine voice, and his Robbie is arguably a much more sympathetic creation than Sandler’s original. Sadly, though, Anderson is hopelessly miscast as Julia; she and Butterfield have absolutely no chemistry and she seemed to sleepwalk through all of her musical numbers, effectively sucking the life out of some otherwise well-staged pieces*. Coffman turns in one of his best performances yet, oozing sleeze as the self-idolizing Glenn.
It’s in the show’s ensemble, though, where some really great performers get to shine in supporting roles. Brad Lambert is an absolute riot as George, Robbie’s Boy George-obsessed band mate; and Emily Miller seems to have the role of her lifetime as Robbie’s rapping grandmother Rose. Paul Stiller makes quite the impression with his Flock-of-Seagulls hair and is quite lovable as he pines for his ex-girlfriend (and Julia’s best friend) Holly (delightfully played by Winnie Spitza). And John Aurelius’s spot-on Billy Idol impersonator is worth mentioning if for no other reason than that amazing wig!
On the technical side, Finnegan’s whimsical set design is simple yet quite striking, and along with Valerie Hopkins’ choreography and Anita Westrup’s costumes (and the work of an uncredited lighting designer) really creates the feeling of being transported back to the 1980s. For those of us who came of age in that decade, it was great nostalgia.
The Wedding Singer at CLT is, all in all, a fairly good production of a flawed musical, probably better than the material deserves. Still, I had fun with it, and if you like this sort of thing, you probably will too.
Featuring Heather Anderson, Madison Anderson, John Aurelius, James Butterfield, Harrison Coffman, Nick Dalton, John Campbell Finnegan, Elisa Freeman, Jess Harris, Brad Lambert, Emily Miller, Mary Rose Pinotti, Heidi Gibson Platt, Kevin Renn, Daniel Spitza, Winnie Spitza, Paul Stiller, Norma Thieman, Shari Vaughn and Andy White.
*I thought I should mention that after I had already written that rather strong criticism of Heather Anderson’s performance, I was told by someone close to the production that she had taken ill suddenly just before the show I attended, and that her subsequent performances were much better. I can only comment on what I saw, but I think she deserves the benefit of the doubt. – CNH
Clarksville Little Theatre