Writer: Chad Beguelin & Tim Herlihy
Music: Matthew Sklar
Lyrics: Chad Beguelin
Director: Nick Winston
Reviewer: Stephen Brennan
There’s a repeated joke towards the end of The Wedding Singer where fake versions of 1980’s icons are introduced, each time with a knowing wink to the audience inviting them to accept the pale imitation as the real thing. Unfortunately, for a musical based on a smash-hit film of the same name, it is a joke that cuts a little too close to the bone.
With music from Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy (who wrote the original screenplay) The Wedding Singer is the story of New Jersey romantics Robbie and Julia, two people engaged to the wrong people until fate intervenes. As the titular wedding singer, Robbie spends his weekends performing at receptions with his band, until he is jilted at the altar by his fiancé. Meanwhile, Julia is engaged to Wall Street Trader Glen, who is more in love with money than her. The stage is set for a classic boy-meets-girl love story.
For the most part, this is exactly what happens. The Wedding Singer is fun and enjoyable, but never quite takes off. It has to be said, this is not for want of trying; the cast are great throughout and some of the numbers are brilliant, however, it feels unbalanced, with the continual 80’s references crowding out the story.
Jon Robyns is charming as Robbie, swinging between the consummate showman and awkward romantic. Cassie Compton offers a sweet innocence as Julia, making the most of a fairly under-developed character. The two have a genuine chemistry, their duets Awesome and Come out of the Dumpster are, despite being much smaller in scale than many of the other numbers, the true highlights of act one.
In the supporting roles, the stand-outs are Ray Quinn and Stephanie Clift. Quinn excels as the slimy Glen, his facial tics and hand gestures used to effectively create the Wall Street persona. He particularly shines in the act two opener All About the Green, though the risqué choreography might leave some feeling a little uncomfortable. As Julia’s best friend Holly, Stephanie Clift is fantastic. Her voice is stunning, and when she has the chance to take centre-stage (particularly in the number Right in front of your Eyes) Clift steals the show.
The rest of the cast is good, though they never have a great deal to do. Ruth Madoc feels especially wasted as Rosie, the character not really developing beyond quirky sidekick, though anyone who has ever wanted to see Madoc rap is in for a treat.
Nick Winston’s direction is fine, ably assisted by Francis O’Connor’s set design that shifts from New Jersey street to hotel ballroom, to basement bedroom with a simplicity that allows the action to flow. Winston also choreographs the shows musical numbers with varying degrees of success. When kept simple, like in the all-male number Single the choreography shines, however, the more complex the choreography goes the less impactful it is, to the detriment of some of the shows bigger numbers.
There is no doubt that The Wedding Singer is fun. It is a pity then, that the show feels like it could be so much more. Too many of the songs fail to make their mark, the humour is very rooted in 80’s nostalgia, and the story, though sweet, offers nothing new. That said, the performances are great, and when the songs are good, they are very good.
For all the shows flaws, it would take a hard heart not to leave the theatre smiling.
Runs until 26 August 2017 | Image: Darren Bell