‘The Wedding Singer’ at Damascus Theatre Company

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Hearken back to New Jersey in the 1980s when self-absorbed Yuppies worshipped Wall Street, hair gel, and blow dryers, and you have the setting for the 2006 Tony-nominated Broadway musical, The Wedding Singer. Based on the 1998 film of the same name, with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, the stage version paints a portrait of young love against a tacky backdrop of American life in a decade of greed and excess. Although the plot is as shallow as a kiddie pool and as predictable as the sun rising in the east, skillful Director-Choreographer Laurie Newton and the tremendously talented performers of the Damascus Theatre Company infuse the characters with a delightful, three-dimensional quality that was sorely lacking in the movie version.

Taylor Lin Campbell and Gabriel Potter. Photo by Elli Swink.
Taylor Lin Campbell and Gabriel Potter. Photo by Elli Swink.

The Wedding Singer tells the story of Robbie Hart, the “way cool” and popular songwriter and lead singer of a band that plays at weddings (and later, hilariously, at bar mitzvahs). Robbie longs to be a rock star and to find the kind of love he sees in the couples for whom he performs. The ultra-talented Gabriel T. Potter plays the role with polish and professionalism throughout a roller coaster ride of emotions. Potter’s facial expressions, body language, attitude, and singing voice truly bring his character to life.

In the opening wedding scene, Robbie announces to the crowd that he will be married to the love of his life the next day. While trying to write a song for his fiancée, he meets and befriends a lovely young catering waitress named Julia, who is going out with a successful Wall Street executive and hopes he will soon ask her to marry him. Julia is played by the sensational singer Taylor Campbell who has an impressive vocal range and powerful voice dynamics, combined with a naïve innocence that is perfect for the role.

The following day, disaster strikes poor Robbie as his fiancée fails to show up for their wedding, claiming she wanted to marry a rock star, not a wedding singer. Robbie’s ensuing depression impairs his performance and he destroys his next wedding gig, where he sings “Casualty of Love.” But, his new loyal friend Julia is supportive and kind, singing “Come Out of the Dumpster,” both figuratively and literally. She suggests that he focus on events other than weddings. When Julia herself gets engaged, her fiancé is too busy making money to help her register for their wedding gifts, so she asks Robbie to help her. Not surprisingly, their friendship begins to deepen.

Throughout the “boy meets girl—boy loses girl—boy meets a different girl” plot, the performances are nothing short of amazing!

Bob Schwartz and Bj Angstadt. Photo by Elli Swink.
Bob Schwartz and Bj Angstadt. Photo by Elli Swink.

The role of Robbie’s grandmother Rosie is played by the incomparable B.J. Bergman Angstadt who sings the heartwarming ballad, “A Note From Grandma” with clear, rich tones. Later, she recites and sings a romantic poem about her husband of 50 years and how they met in a podiatrist’s office. But the topper is Angstadt popping and locking and rapping in a way that belies her age as she teaches us that it’s never too late to “Move That Thang.”

Another standout is 17-year-old ensemble member Caroline Vette, who puts on an impressive display of acrobatic dancing as the bride in the opening scene. Tim Kurtzberg as bandmember Sammy, and Megan Mostow as his girlfriend Holly, shine in the touching, “Right in Front of Your Eyes.” As George, the other band member, Cam Sammartano, comically stumbles through Hebrew at a bar mitzvah in “George’s Prayer.” Amanda Spellman as Robbie’s unfaithful fiancée Linda, is down and dirty as she belts out “A Note From Linda” and “Let Me Come Home.”

Cody Gilliam, as Julia’s fiancé Glen, leads the entire company in a smashing production number “It’s All About the Green” that had us dancing in our seats. However, the highlight for us was the wonderful ballad “Grow Old With You,” in which Robbie and Julia sing about the true meaning of love, sharing joys throughout the rest of their lives together, and even pledging to allow the other to cheat at checkers.

One of the “stars” of the show is the music itself. With an off-stage 7-piece orchestra, Musical Director Arielle Bayer skillfully accompanies rock and roll with a driving beat, soulful rhythm and blues, and sentimental ballads. Bill Brown’s set design and Cody Gilliam’s costumes are clever and effective with a black and white checkerboard theme.

Equally wonderful is the comedy in this show. The relentless, rapid-fire references to the 1980s are absolutely hilarious! From Van Halen to “sweatin’ to the oldies” to “Where’s the beef?” and dozens of others too numerous to mention, these tasty bits are inserted into the libretto with surgical precision. To add to the satire, the show includes Las Vegas impersonators such as Ronald Reagan, Billy Idol, and Tina Turner, and when Imelda Marcos appeared on the stage carrying a shoebox, we were almost choking with laughter.

With Kurt Timzberg, Amanda Spellman, Caroline Vette, Rob Milanich, Gabriel Potter,  Erica Loy, and cat members. Photo by Elli Swink.
Kurt Timzberg, Amanda Spellman, Caroline Vette, Rob Milanich, Gabriel Potter, Erica Loy, and cast members. Photo by Elli Swink.

For those of us who lived through the 1980s, The Wedding Singer is a humorous and nostalgic reminder of that period. For younger folks, the show provides a history lesson on American popular culture.

For audience members of any age, Damascus Theatre Company’s The Wedding Singer is a thoroughly entertaining musical extravaganza that is not to be missed!

Running Time:  Approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

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The Wedding Singer plays through June 28, 2015 at Damascus Theatre Company, in partnership with the Arts Barn, performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call (301) 258-6394 or purchase them online.

LINKS:
Meet the Cast of Damascus Theatre Company’s ‘The Wedding Singer’: Part 1: Taylor Campbell.

Meet the Cast of Damascus Theatre Company’s ‘The Wedding Singer’: Part 2 Gabriel T. Potter.

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Paul M. Bessel and Barbara Braswell
The most important thing about Paul M. Bessel is that on January 1, 2011, he married the most wonderful woman in the world, who helped him expand his enjoyment of theater. (The first show he remembers was Fiorello! when he was ten, wearing his first suit.) He and his wife now attend as many musicals, history seminars, and concerts as possible, sometimes as many as 4 or 5 a week, enjoying retirement and the joys of finding love late in life, and going on unconventionally romantic dates such as exhibits of mummies and lectures on parliamentary procedure. They live in Leisure World of Maryland and in addition to going to theaters as often as they can they are active together in community and local political organizations. Barbara Braswell grew up in Newport RI, where Jackie Kennedy once bought her an ice cream cone. She has been interested in theatre her whole life. While pursuing a 33-year career with the U.S. Department of Transportation — helping states build highways, including H-3 in Hawaii, where Barbara helped arrange for a shaman to bless the highway — she attended as many shows as possible on her own, with her late mother, and now with her husband. Now retired, she devotes a great deal of time to theatre, community and local political meetings, and having as much fun as possible.