Alright, scoff if you must but here goes: I’m a fan of The Wedding Singer musical. It’s yet another musical based off of a popular movie (granted that trend wasn’t as popular when it premiered on Broadway in 2006). Its source material comes from a very short list titled “Good Adam Sandler movies”. But it’s fun. And it gives me memories of when I stage managed a community theater production of it years ago. The Pittsburgh CLO just opened up their production of it and I was really excited to go. Turns out I still know all the words.
The plot? Robbie Hart is a wedding singer in New Jersey during the rockin’ 80’s. He loves weddings and knows how to entertain, and is very excited to get married himself. However when his fiancee doesn’t show up to their wedding it totally wrecks his world and his music. Meanwhile waitress Julia Sullivan is eager to get married to her long-time Wall Street boyfriend. Together, and with the assistance of a fun cast of friends, Robbie and Julia examine their own ideas of love and marriage (while, of course, developing feelings for each other).
J. Michael Zygo is a very charismatic Robbie. He isn’t a showboat or a ham, just a classic nice guy who can give a moving wedding toast to people he doesn’t even know. Then, when his life is ripped to shreds, he retreats inside himself and becomes an empty shell. He gets to unload angrily during “Casualty of Love”, where Robbie berates innocent newlyweds for believing in love…at their own wedding reception. But Mr. Zygo is oddly funniest as Robbie when Robbie is feeling his lowest, like when he’s tossed in a dumpster or gets sucker-punched (which involves a hilarious physical comedy bit).
Julia is played by former Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz. Her Julia is cute and peppy, a strong optimistic voice for when Robbie is feeling low. Her optimism is peppered by her own doubts and confusions about her jerkoff of a fiance Glen Guglia. She is romantic, like Robbie, but when her doubts finally overcome her she breaks down, a scene Ms. Ushkowitz handles very well. Her voice is strong and meshes well with Mr. Zygo on their duets “If I Told You” and “Grow Old With You”. Her hilarious and encouraging song “Come Out of the Dumpster” is also one of my favorites.
The supporting characters and ensemble are all game for some fun. Brandon Espinoza hits all the funny lines as Robbie’s supportive (and dummy) best friend Sammy, while also having an intense love/hate relationship with Julia’s cousin Holly (Kirsten Scott, full of sass and powerful vocals). Sandy Rosenberg is hilarious as Robbie’s open-minded and adorably blunt grandma Rosie. Jackie Burns (returning from Man of la Mancha) rocks out in two numbers as Robbie’s trashy (ex) fiancee Linda.
What’s great about this show is how much pleasure it takes in paying goofy homage to the ’80’s. There are huge cell phones, references to New Coke, and an endless supply of outrageously bad hairdos. I’ve seen many an 80’s show where people too young to know better try to capture a feel for the era and end up giving everyone a headband. Happily the CLO manages to create a style that’s humorous without looking stupid. The ensemble seems to be having great fun in their dance numbers with their costumes, specifically the sexy black clubwear they don for “Saturday Night in the City.” Oh, and shoutout to all those wigs. I’d love to see them all lined up.
There are many different locations in this show (typical from a movie-turned-musical). It’s a tall order for scenery, with some (like the nightclub) looking flashier than others. A few scene changes weren’t as sharp as they could have been, but that probably owes to the minimal tech time the CLO has (a new show every week is a tall order). But there were some good tech moments that made it all worth it, especially the Flashdance reference that actually made me say “ooh” out loud.
So if you’re looking for great fun, an upbeat pop score, and a good dash of heart then I recommend The Wedding Singer. There’s nostalgia for the 80’s. Nostalgia for when Adam Sandler made good movies (I dare you to challenge this). There are a slew of celebrity impersonators, Trekkies, Flock of Seagulls hair, a bump of cocaine…what more do you need?
The Wedding Singer
Presented by Pittsburgh CLO
Directed by Barry Ivan
Written by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy (book), Matthew Sklar (music), Chad Beguelin (lyrics)
Designed by Scott Pask (scenery), Gregory Gale (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting)
Starring Jenna Ushkowitz (Julia Sullivan), Brandon Andrus (Glen Guglia), Jackie Burns (Linda), Susan Cella (Angie/Sideburns Lady/China Clerk), Brandon Espinoza (Sammy), Jeffrey Howell (Ronald Reagan Impersonator), Greg Kamp (George), Sandy Rosenberg (Rosie), Kirsten Scott (Holly), J. Michael Zygo (Robbie Hart) and ensemble: Danny Bevins, Ben Bogen, Lindsey Bracco, Melessie Clark, Kevin Clay, Ixchel Cuellar, L’ogan J’ones, Brooke Lacy, Christine Laitta, Justin Lonesome, Mallory Michaellann, Zach Miller, Alle-Faye Monka, Dallas Padoven, Kevin Paul.
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh CLO for complimentary press tickets.
The show runs until August 2nd. Tickets can be purchased here.
Performance Date: Friday, July 24, 2015