This charming musical is an entertaining way to kick off Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s 50th anniversary season. With a book by Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the lyrics and Tim Herlihy, music by Matthew Sklar, and directed by Mark Briner, it’s based on the 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler. It is a delightful throwback to the 80s, with the clothes, hair, and attitude. The acting, singing, dancing, directing, music, costumes, and even scenery all work together to tell a funny and lovely story about finding happiness.
From the first moment, the show references and humorously comments on the 80s, even the band’s name “Simply Wed.” They step out for their gig at the Touch of Class reception hall in sparkly blue dinner jackets and ruffled shirts, with long hair full of product. One character carries a mobile phone, with a huge battery. They scoff at the idea of Starbucks, saying “nobody’s willing to pay $3 for a cup of coffee,” while heartily supporting the New Coke. Madonna’s outfit from Like a Virgin inspires an outrageous wedding dress. There’s even a subtle nod to the junk bond trader who inspired Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko. These moments alone make for big laughs.
Robbie (Jamie Austin Jacobs) is the band’s singer, performing mainly for weddings, although they also cover a bar mitzvah, joyously and optimistically singing about love, especially in the opening number “It’s Your Wedding Day.” His belief in love gets sorely tested when his longtime girlfriend Linda (Hannah Thornhill) ditches him right before their own wedding. He starts to fall for Julia (Layne Seaman) who works at the reception hall; unfortunately she’s engaged to marry Glen (Jeffrey Hawkins), a businessman who is sleazy in all areas of his life. Will true love win out?
Jacobs and Seaman play their relationship with just the right touch of seriousness, while still allowing for comic moments. Seaman impresses as a sweet, kindhearted Julia, while Jacobs is a hopeful romantic as Robbie, pursuing his dreams both for music and love. Hawkins plays Glen with a gleeful arrogance, reveling in his business and romantic successes. Watching Robbie and Julia slowly realize their feelings for each other, especially after a kiss “for experimental purposes” is one of the truly touching moments.
The cast was well-chosen for this production. They are all full of energy and put their all into each song and dance. The supporting players are just as strong and fun to watch as the leads. Robbie Dinsmore as Robbie’s bandmate George is especially fun. Channeling Boy George, he has perfected the androgynous look, with extra-long, curly hair, a slender build, and bright red lips. Playing the Bar Mitzvah, he wears a prayer shawl and turns it into a fashionable scarf. During the song “Single,” he confesses,“I don’t really like girls,” getting big laughs from the audience.
Phyllis J. Everette as Rosie, Robbie’s grandmother, is a pleasure to watch too. She may be old, but she’s spry, spunky, and unashamedly sexual. In “A Note from Grandma,” after Linda’s left Robbie, while assuring her grandson he’ll find someone who loves him, she also makes sure to tell him Linda is “a skanky whore.” During her 50th anniversary party, she recites a poem she wrote on how she met her husband, at the podiatrist’s office. At that same party, helping George cover for Robbie’s sudden departure, she celebrates the physical side of love in “Move That Thang,” dancing around the stage and shaking her booty with pleasure. There’s a funny moment when she and George are briefly replaced by two stuntmen who twirl each other across the stage; they return as though they’ve performed the stunt.
Hannah Thornhill is a real hoot as Linda. She plays the sexiest, sluttiest character with relish and pulls it off wonderfully. She wears the outrageous wedding dress, with white, thigh-high boots and ruffled lingerie, shown as she sings “A Note from Linda, explaining why she couldn’t marry Robbie. Later, she appears in Robbie’s bedroom,and she urges him to “Let Me Come Home.” A hot water heater provides an excellent fog show for her. With her unbridled sultriness, she gives one of the most entertaining performances.
There’s a nice subplot with Robbie’s other bandmate Sammy (Fred Fletcher-Jackson) and Julia’s friend Holly (Ashley Gladden), who are a tenuous couple. Sammy is nice but not particularly classy, and Holly keeps thinking she can do better; she even takes Robbie out to a nightclub to help cheer him up. Eventually, though, in a sweet song “Right in Front of Your Eyes,”she realizes what a good guy Sammy really is.
Andrew Mannion has done an expert job as Set Designer, creating a simple yet bright, fun set. Cardboard-like squares of different colors form the backdrop and the edges of the stage. Robbie’s bed pulls out from one of the squares, making for an easy scene change. Above the front stage is a balcony, which Rosie and Julia use for two scenes. It is a creative use of the space.
The costumes by Lin Whetzel perfectly capture the show’s era, from the yuppie business suits worn by Glen and briefly Robbie, to the leather jackets and trousers during the nightclub scene in “Saturday Night in the City.” Watching the costumes feel like stepping back into the 80s.
Becca Vourvolas’ choreography is amazing. The cast moves quickly and smoothly, both around the stage and each other. The dance numbers, some with complex lifts and maneuvers, are a visual treat. Everything and everyone comes together well in this fast-paced production.
The music, conducted by Ken Kimble, who is also Music Director, is excellent, helping to set the mood and keep the story going. Each song has its own style, from the hard-rock heaviness of “Casualty of Love” to the tender ballad of “If I Told You.” And they have plenty of humor as well, particularly one where Julia encourages Robbie to literally “Come Out of the Dumpster.” They’re truly fun to listen to.
Upbeat and entertaining, with lots of energy and laughs, Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s The Wedding Singer is a splendid way to spend an evening, especially in the open air in downtown Annapolis.
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15 minute intermission.
The Wedding Singer plays through June 18, 2016 at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre – 143 Compromise Street, in Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 268-9212, or purchase them online.