With skillful staging, an impressive band, nostalgic choreography and a talented ensemble, The Arlington Players'(TAP) production of The Wedding Singer celebrates the ‘80s in earnest with fanciful fun and froth.
Based on the 1998 romantic comedy film, starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the musical, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, with minor alterations, runs pretty close to the original story line. As in the movie, The Wedding Singer sets forth in New Jersey, 1985, introducing musician/rock star wannabe (Steve Block) who makes a living playing at weddings with old friends, Sammy (Sterling Beard) and George (Tim Adams), and is about to marry his longtime girlfriend, Linda (Claire O’Brien).
Abruptly jilted, after Linda leaves him at the altar, Robbie spends some time in an orgy of self-pity, crooning songs such as “Somebody Kill Me” and projecting his feelings onto unwitting newlyweds — until a groom throws him into a trash bin. He is rescued by kindhearted waitress Julia (Evie Korovesis), who is inappropriately paired with self-satisfied, disingenuous Wall Street climber Glen (Keith J. Miller), until true love finally works itself out in Las Vegas, with the help of impersonators of Ronald Reagan (William Shingler), Billy Idol (Mike Usowski), Mr. T (Ricardo Coleman), Tina Turner (Aerika Saxe), Cyndi Lauper (K.C. Tydgat), Imelda Marcos (Karen Piczon) and Nancy Reagan (Jennifer Diffell).
Director and Choreographer, John K. Monnett assembles a fine team for TAP’s production. The show has strong design elements, including a versatile two-story set by James Villarrubia, and effective lighting, complete with a disco ball, by B. Keith Ryder and sound from Keith Bell and Drew Moberley. Monnett’s choreography was captivating, particularly in Act I’s “Saturday Night in the City” and Act II’s “All About the Green” and “Single.” In addition, Lory Levitt and Kelly Cronenberg’s creative costuming makes the cast of 24 look like a much larger ensemble – a remarkable achievement. And, Terri Carnahan’s staging is excellent throughout the evening.
Musical Directors Walter McCoy and Steve Przybylski integrate the 11-member band’s sounds seamlessly between comic numbers — such as “Let Me Come Home,” in which the sultry Linda, played to comic excess by Claire O’Brien, tries to woo a horrified Robbie — and tender, romantic ones, such as the duet “If I Told You,” beautifully harmonized by Robbie (Steve Block) and Julia (Evie Korovesis). What’s more, two original songs from the film made it into the musical — the hilarious, “Somebody Kill Me,” Robbie’s lament after being rejected by Linda, and the darling, “Grow Old With You,” the song he ultimately sings for Julia.
In general, the second half of the show seemed a little tighter and paced than the first. Almost all the songs move the narrative forward, and some of the most interesting secondary characters get an opportunity to shine: Julia’s sleazy fiancé, Glen (Keith J. Miller) leads a rollicking ode to ’80s greed in his “All About the Green” number, Robbie’s pals, Sterling Beard (Sammy) and Tim Adams’ (George) silly, endearing personalities in “Single.” And, hip, frisky Grandma Rosie (Barbara Porter) steals the show with her romp, old school delivery, comedic timing and execution of “Move That Thang.”
Other stand out performances include Teresa Danskey (sassy Holly) belting out “Saturday Night in the City” with full-on moxie while dancing pastiches of “Thriller” and Flashdance; Tim Adams ‘(George) amusing rendition of Spandau Ballet’s “True” and “George’s Prayer” at the Shapiro Bar Mitzvah. Linda (Claire O’Brien) provides two show-stopping moments with “A Note from Linda“ and “Let me Come Home.” O’Brien channels Pat Benatar with perfect comedic timing and noteworthy dance and vocal styling.
Much of The Wedding Singer’s charm emanates from the portrayal of its two central characters. Evie Korovesis’ Julia is vulnerable, eager and reassuringly down-to-earth; she delivers a heartfelt, authentic performance as Julia, and her voice displayed marked range and dimension, particularly in the “If I Told You” duet. Steve Block’s Robbie is pleasantly low-key much of the time; he does nice, understated work as the title character with his casually relaxed singing style.
Under John K. Monnett’s acute direction and energetic choreography, The Arlington Players’ The Wedding Singer is a funny, festive frolic through a glorious decade, rallying a nice night for a white wedding.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 20-minute intermission.
The Wedding Singer plays through October 18, 2014 at The Arlington Players performing at the Thomas Jefferson Theatre—125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, purchase them at the theatre, or online.