We were transported back to the mid 1980s when we went to see North Raleigh Arts & Creative Theatre's The Wedding Singer. This musical comedy is taken from a screenplay written by Tim Herlihy, who also wrote the musical's book, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Chasta Hamilton Calhoun is the show's director and choreographer; Michael Santangelo handles the musical direction.
The title wedding singer is a young man by the name of Robbie Hart (John Milsaps). He is able to make a fair living writing original music for and performing at wedding parties. The show's opener, "It's Your Wedding Day," has put Robbie and his band on the map; Robbie plays guitar, lead is played by Sammy (Billy Hoffman), and keyboards are supplied by George (Chris Maxwell). Maxwell did a mean, spot-on imitation of Boy George, who enjoyed a riotous, if brief, career in pop music during the '80s.
Robbie is popular with the wedding set because he is so positive; his demeanor is contagious and his weddings are usually hit affairs. Unfortunately, Robbie gets a bit turned off of the wedding bit when he is stood up at the altar by his flame, Linda (Casey Cleland – "A Note from Linda"). His depression is so great that he gives up music and tries to make a living selling junk bonds on Wall Street ("Casualty of Love" – Robbie and company).
This is a musical comedy that is really infectious. The music is all '80s pop/rock, and the dance moves, so expertly designed by Calhoun, were tightly and enthusiastically danced by a first-rate cast, all of whom sang and danced an enervating five full-company numbers in the first act alone. Opening night had a dynamite audience that was really into this show, and the cast took full advantage of it; the energy was palpable and poured off the stage.
Robbie makes a new friend at the top of the show, Julia Sullivan (Morgan Abdalla), who makes a real attempt to get Robbie back into music ("Come Out of the Dumpster"). Robbie has promised to write a new song for Julia on her wedding day, which is coming up ("Pop!" – Julia and company). What Robbie never expects is to find himself falling for Julia, engaged to a hunk of a junk bond salesman, Glen (Mark Olexik). It takes the better part of the show for the two to figure out their feelings, but when they do, the result is a beautiful showstopper of a tune, "If I Told You." It was a first-rate chance for both these leads to show off their impressive pipes.
Herlihy and company have thrown in some super '80s-era gags just for fun, like all the celebrities that Robbie runs into when he chases Julia to Vegas. We meet Mr. President Ronald Reagan and wife Nancy, Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, and — this one is a head-scratcher — Imelda Marcos! The lot works together to extricate Julia from her fiancé, and Robbie and Julia finally get a few minutes alone ("Grow Old With You"). It's a full double-dozen songs and some of the most debilitating dance you will see this season; it wore me out just watching them!
The Wedding Singer gave us many fine and well-turned performances from the cast, including a sizzling-hot rendition of "Saturday Night in the City" from Destiny McNeill (Julia's friend Holly) at the close of Act I. Also worthy of note was Lynda Kinton ( Robbie's Granma Rosie), who gave us a surprisingly adroit song and dance with Billy Hoffman (Sammy) in Act II, "Move That Thang." But the real top draw in this show was the company, who burned up the stage with some extremely physical and demanding dance steps that just plain jumped off the stage. It was stimulating, and the audience really let them know it, with hoots, shouts, and whistles that lasted all night long.
The Wedding Singer was a surprising and fun-filled evening of musical comedy, with some fine sketches and superior song and dance. Everyone on stage was up, and really into what they were doing, with superb performances like Maxwell's Boy George (ya gotta see it to believe it) and McNeil's smokin' hot Holly. The music is infectious and the book is above the usual caliber of a musical comedy. So listen: go see this show. You will enjoy yourself tremendously. If, for some reason, you don't, well, you better check your pulse.
The Wedding Singer continues through Sunday, June 12. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.