I think the appeal of Good Company’s “The Wedding Singer” rests on how closely you identify with the 1980s.
From a big-picture perspective, this 2006 Broadway show certainly isn’t going to be known as a classic. Even when comparing it to other musicals inspired by appealing-but-slight movies, it doesn’t come close to the top of the list.
However, if you’re willing to let the silliness of the decade seep into your consciousness — and can delight in costume designer Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s wacky period clothes — this production has some good things going for it.
For me, the ’80s moment in the show that hit home came in a scene when various male ensemble cast members trickled onto stage wearing various articles of clothing that I swear used to grace my closet. First was a yellow and blue rugby shirt, the kind with the wide stripes. Then came a vivid red-and-black flannel shirt, whose pattern once adorned a black-armed jacket I used to own that looked as if were made for an Armani-clad hunter. And, finally, an oversized, cable-knit V-neck sweater with a thick border made an appearance, and I sort of laughed-gagged.
Talk about a trip down memory lane.
There are plenty of other ’80s references, from New Coke jokes to Imelda Marcos’ shoes, crammed into the show, which faithfully follows the storyline of the 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. The Sandler role, played by GCP vet Peter Allwine, is a hapless rock-star wannabe named Robbie Hart. He’s stuck as lead singer of a local New Jersey band whose bread-and-butter is wedding receptions.
When Robbie gets dumped at the altar, he befriends a waitress named Julia (a nicely voiced Sonya Venugopal), herself engaged to a big-spending Wall Street trader. Take that love triangle, toss in a supporting-players romance, a Walkman-toting grandmother, a whole bunch of teased hair and a few introspective moments about materialism, and that’s the basic outline of the show.
The leading performances are fine but not superlative. Considering his recent body of work, this certainly isn’t my favorite Allwine portrayal or character. The role is so indelibly tied to Sandler’s big-screen performance — and, like or hate that actor’s quirks, riffs and extended mugging, he’s an electric presence on screen — that anyone else playing the part is probably going to come across as either an impersonator or generic. Allwine doesn’t do a Sandler impression, thankfully, but there isn’t much else for him to do otherwise.
Venugopal, again, has impressive vocals, and she’s charming on stage, but the character is so blandly written (Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy wrote the book, Matthew Sklar the music and Chad Beguelin the lyrics) that, again, it’s hard for her to really shine.
Director Elizabeth Fiester has more success with some of the supporting characters. Ali Larsen is a standout as Holly, the sassy sidekick, and so is Tyler Branco as Sammy, her blustery ex-boyfriend sporting a “Flock of Seagulls” ‘do. In one of the best scenes, a fantasy sequence, Holly is wooed by two tuxedo-clad gentlemen (Julian Perez and Dominic Grijalva, both of whom excel) versus the less-than-graceful Sammy. Larsen has great vocals and shows a real spark onstage.
Gigi Gibbs has some nice scenes filled with grandmotherly gusto and Marc Gonzalez a funny featured moment as a raspy bum. Daniel Hernandez gives a smooth and polished performance as the snotty Glen — he sings well and sports a strong stage vibe — and he excels in leading the sharply performed musical number “All About the Green” featuring Joshua Montgomery’s appealing choreography. Each time I see him in a production, Hernandez stands out more, and I think he has a promising stage future.
Then there’s Lewis-Reed, the costumer, who gets to run wild with this show, so to speak. Whether it’s dolling up a Cyndi Lauper impersonator or nailing a “Miami Vice”-style jacket with rolled-up sleeves, Lewis-Reed consistently delivers some of the biggest laughs in the show. If you’re too old (or too young) to feel nostalgic for the ’80s, “The Wedding Singer” might not sparkle. But if you’re in the right demographic, you’ll feel it all the way down to the tips of your leg warmers.