There is nothing more thrilling than seeing an enormous musical performed in an intimate space: the intensity of the music, the proximity of the dancers, the sweat of the actors literally trickling onto those of us lucky enough to sit in the front row…it's a rush. Director/choreographer Taryn Turney seems particularly adept at squeezing big musicals into small boxes, having helmed Urinetown, Little Women, and Parade (which was stunning) at the tiny Secret Theatre in Long Island City. Unfortunately, her latest, Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin's The Wedding Singer falls short of her previous efforts.
Based on the 1998 Tim Herlihy movie starring Adam Sandler, The Wedding Singer is the story of Robbie Hart (Barry Debois), the front man of a New Jersey-based wedding band. Couples all over Jersey hire Robbie, Sammy (Michael Louis Bernardi), and George (John Wascavage) to ensure their wedded bliss...that is, to play their wedding receptions. But after Robbie is left at the altar by his rocker chick fiancée, Linda (the irrepressibly funny Natalie DePuy), he wonders if he'll ever be able to get it up for another wedding gig. Julia (Allison Wilkes), a waitress at the Touch of Class catering hall, helps Robbie out of his slump and he starts to fall for her. Too bad she's already engaged to a philandering financier named Glen Guglia (a well-cast Kevin Paul Smith). Wait…is she really going to become Julia Guglia?!?!
The story is a charming and funny rom-com and many of the best lines from the film are kept for this stage adaptation, which played on Broadway in 2006. It's great to hear Sklar's catchy and oh-so-'80s music on stage again. I just wish I could have better understood Beguelin's lyrics.
None of the actors are miked, which could work in a small space like this, especially with a more orchestral score like Parade. The Wedding Singer has rock/pop sound, however, and many of the actors drown under the synthesizers, drums, and electric guitars. Most notably, the soft-voiced Debois is very hard to hear and that is a bad thing for the band's lead singer. It's not that he doesn't have a good voice. He does! DeBois really soars when it is just him and his acoustic guitar on stage. Anything heavier causes him to fade into the background and he's not alone.
I had trouble hearing most of the actors at various points in the show. The notable exception is Kristin Piacentile, who plays Julia's slutty cousin/best friend Holly. I could hear every syllable uttered by this big-voiced diva. Body mics are expensive, so I understand why they might not be an option, but it seems to me that there were cost-effective choices that could have been made to amplify the actors at key moments, especially considering the fact that Robbie spends so much time holding a prop hand microphone.
Other, less-expensive omissions are more baffling. In a later scene featuring a host of appropriately '80s celebrity impersonators (Ronald Reagan, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper), a woman stands in the background wearing a Brenda Dickson-esque gown and a fright wig. Is it Joan Collins? No, it's Imelda Marcos — but you would never know based on the design. That would be OK if the production were about getting beyond the Imelda caricature of popular lore, but remember, this is supposed to be an Imelda Marcos impersonator. Please, someone get that actress a glittery high heel to play with on stage, at very least.
Many of the choices in this production seem half-considered. Rather than illuminating the story or pushing the showmanship to a new level, much of Turney's choreography feels like filler, eating up stage time until the dance break in the music ends. This competent cast executes their uninspired choreography and blocking with gusto, but it is not enough to make a memorable production of this show, no matter how much fun the source material is.