FringeReview UK 2017
The Wedding Singer
Dan Looney in association with Paulden Hall, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Tom O’Connell Productions and Tim Lawson
Venue: Theatre Royal, Brighton
Festival: FringeReview UK
A 1997 move turned 2006 musical, The Wedding Singer was created by Adam Sandler – whose two songs remain – and Tim Herlichy who remains book writer with Chad Beguelin. The music’s now otherwise written by Matthew Sklar to replace all the original pop songs. Here directed and choreographed by Nick Winston, designed by Francis O’Connor, in a production led by Dan Looney with Ben Cracknell’s lighting and Ben Harrison’s sound palate, with a live band directed by Sean Green. George Dyer’s tailored the orchestration Jack Henry James’ video design is called on throughout.
Straight after The Happiness Show another burst of late summer to send us whistling into the flutes of autumn. This 1985-based, 1997 film with the re-musiced 2006 musical The Wedding Singer explodes into Theatre Royal Brighton with a lozenge-shaped projection of all the movies we maanged to miss at the time involving Rambo and bomb-blasts. By the time they’ve looped back, feel-good’s a blast you’re craving.
The happiness of a happiness creator is one of those perennial paradoxes: the idea of getting a wedding singer to his own wedding hits as many sweet spots as there are sequins on mid-eighties dresses. There remains the supreme irony that this 1997 film and later musical celebrate intimate aspirations versus giant corporates whilst being part of that giant feeder. But the concept arose from two students still finding their way, and that integrity, a genuine feel-good coup de foudre, remains.
Having Ray Quinn as a mild villain goes down pretty well too, but Jon Robyns shines as the eponymous singer, grandmother Ruth Madoc and love interest Cassie Compton with her daffy friend Stephanie Clift headlines what’s emphatically a vibrant ensemble piece.
Created by Adam Sandler – whose two songs remain – and Tim Herlichy who remains book writer with Chad Beguelin, the music’s now otherwise written by Matthew Sklar to replace all the original pop songs. Sound move: no wonder it was acclaimed. Here directed and choreographed very tightly by Nick Winston with a sliding set of fences (with dumpster!) and freewheeling wedding reception space-cum-office by Francis O’Connor, this really fits the all-singing-dancing slot with the most detailed routines and individualised ensemble pieces I’ve seen here.
In a production led by Dan Looney everyone shines, literally with Ben Cracknell’s lighting and Ben Harrison’s very loud sound palate, with a live band directed by Sean Green. George Dyer’s tailored the orchestration to theatre space and it whacks out of this one without distorting (for the most part) the vocals at all. And that blasted video? Jack Henry James’ design throughout presents ads and visuals considerably witter and calmer than the loop of films hammering before lights-down.
Robyns’ Robbie Hart is lead singer of a band trio comprising goofy Sammy long dumped by Holly (Clift) who hovers, and (Boy?) George delighting in mid-eighties camp. He’s also getting married to slinky Linda (Tara Verloop). Ashley Eemrson exudes not only a fine singing voice and lanky haplessness but a fien comic timing as Sammy, whilst Samuel Holmes anchors the Scene in face paint and savvy high gloss. It’s a neat contrast to Hart’s rather all-mixed-up approach and they blast out their calling card to the first of their commissions of the month in ‘It’s Your Wedding day’. It gets more mixed when Compton’s Julia Sullivan befriends him, asking him to sing at her wedding now Glen Guila finally proposes in a swanky revolve restaurant. But there’s unease. Compton’s high soprano tackles ‘Someday’ with plangency and the first of her duets with Robyns ‘Awesome’ involve some of the funniest lyrics binnings in the business. Imagine pancreas as a rhyme. It gets worse. But these pair are beautifully, achingly matched as a duet. They’re made for each other.
It gets a lot worse as Verloop’s outrageously vamped Linda )’A Note From Linda’) dumps Robbie as he waits for her in church, spiralling him into a wilfully self-destructive spree. ‘Somebody Kill Me’ is one of the two Sandler numbers, wailing lyric angst before the catastrophic anti-wedding song ‘Casualty of Love’ where he wrecks the wedding he’s singing for, and gets ‘those mutants on Table Nine’ to join in. It’s a cringe-worthy moment of consummate farce.
‘Come Out of the Dumpster’ is literally Julia’s first true attachment to a man trashed several times and its feel-good goofiness lights up the first act. With a good deal more from grandmother reprise where Madoc’s comic energy cajoles common sense and more sexual experience than Robbie can handle, we’re into a fine ‘Saturday Night in the City’ energy burn. Not before a demonstration kiss when choosing wedding gear for Julia goes a bit, well Holly’s sussed it. The neatness of plot and detail means you never have to refer to the movie.
Act Two’s even finer. Quinn’s had less to do (like Madoc) but they both come into their own, Quinn in the brilliantly choreographed routine ‘All about the Greens’ where the lost hero asks the go-getter womaniser for a job. Quinn shines here, his dancing and caged ego persona flashing out in feral delight. Money literally sticks to the men’s foreheads raining down and clutched by all as the women open their blouses and the whole corporate usage of people as commodities – and sexual commodities is spelt out here in an age of Trump – blares out. It’s the most original number and no harm in seeing it reprised as a bar song as Robbie drowns his sorrows in a stunning routine of drinkers and pick-ups.
Naturally the musical’s driven by such things as ‘If I Told You’ where Robbie and Julia feet away shyly confess their love. It’s one of the three great touching moments, immediately hi-jacked by Linda, a getaway to Vegas, a plane chase and… the second Sandler number ‘Grow Old With You’ is another heart-stopper.
Quite apart from the superb Robyns, Compton, Quinn and Madoc (does she cartwheel?), Clift Emerson and Homes, there’s the ensemble. Verloop vamps devastatingly, but Susie Fenwick’s Angie, Mark Pearce’s cringingly bad best man bro David, Hannah-Jay Allen’s Crystal or should that be Tina, Paris Green, Erin Bell, Helen Walsh and the whole ensemble are given brief named roles. It’s a superb cast of nineteen, and if the end mightn’t seem in doubt, you’ll be dizzy with how it falls out.
This is an outstandingly-conceived show, generous to cast and audience alike, superbly choreographed and performed in what might seem challenging spaces. Shorn of those pop tunes it’s no mere Juke Box Musical, and in ‘All about the Green’ and ‘Grow Old With You’ it discovers individual – and memorable – gems in an always lyrical flood. This is the last blast of summer’s breath: enjoy.