Start the party! Start a tab! One of the biggest, ‘most excellent’ celebrations of all things ’80s, has come to Long Beach CA, as Musical Theater West concludes their 58th season with “The Wedding Singer”! The musical adaptation of the hit Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy takes audiences back to Ridgefield NJ, 1985–a magical place and time, when MTV was in its infancy (–meaning, still showing videos,) and those Jersey Boys and Girls who preceded “Snookie” and “The Situation” would jam to a different, decidedly new-wave beat.
Despite receiving five Tony nominations (including for “Best Musical”) some have asserted that during its initial New York run this production was too easily overlooked; yet even with the slightest peek at its content one can just as easily declare that without “The Wedding Singer” current hits like “Rock Of Ages” and “American Idiot” very probably wouldn’t have made their mark. As Producer Garman noted during an opening night speech, the show never toured to the area before so this, in actuality, is its Southern California debut! How thrilling then that he, along with Director Larry Raben and the entire company have staged such a downright impressive and exuberant crowd-pleaser to kick off the summer. Indeed, many parents will delight in bringing their kids to see it in order to ’enlighten’ today’s younger crowd as to what it was really like back before I-pods or DVD’s, while themselves innocently reliving some truly bodacious memories of their youth for a little while.
Once the curtain rises, we’re at a post-nuptial reception, where Robbie Hart, New Jersey’s favorite ‘Matrimonial Entertainer’ has the place jumping, revealing in the rollicking opener, “I wrote a song six years ago, while playing in a wedding band; the word got out and suddenly the band and I are in demand.” As it turns out, he too is engaged to platinum blonde, leather-clad, Linda, played by Kelli Provart. Basically an old-school skank at heart, Linda is a bustier-wearing, ‘Marilyn Chambers wanna be’–the kind who dots her I’s with little hearts and smiley faces in the note she writes (and sings) when leaving him at the altar. In it, she confesses, “I’m not in love with ‘Robbie Now’, but ‘Robbie, Seven Years Ago’” going on to explain that he’s not the Heavy-metal Superstar on the rise she once imagined he was, but simply someone who “sings while people chew”.
Bitter and given to morose, if melodic, rants, our hero begins to sabotage all his gigs–even getting thrown into a dumpster by angry wedding guests at one point. Happily, that’s when Julia Sullivan, a warm-hearted waitress comes to his aid. Invested with great charm by Renee Brna, this gal’s own “Champagne Wishes And Caviar Dreams” really don’t extend much beyond having her ultra-yuppie boyfriend Glen (Derek Keeling) propose to her–which he does. In fact, this desire prompts two of the score’s most memorable offerings. The first, a touching ballad titled “Someday”, serves as Julia’s introduction as she dreams of the day “when its me“ walking down the aisle. The next occurs when Glen, backed by a trio of Julia’s enthusiastic co-workers, does at last, “Pop The Question”. (Unfortunately, her new fiancé’ is in reality a philandering junk-bond trading scum-bag who drives a DeLorean.)
Further complications arise when Robbie and Julia go on a “strictly platonic” shopping date and are continually mistaken for a couple very much in love. Despite how much they try to insist “It’s Not That Kind Of Thing” however, it’s obvious that a mutual–and mutually strong–attraction has taken hold. Well, as Pat Benetar once reminded us, “Love is a battlefield” after all, and we‘re treated to a funny, tune-filled, and nostalgic jaunt as the pair wind their way to that inevitable ride off into the sunset–but only after rings are exchanged, vows are taken and a totally tubular closing reprise of that opening anthem is belted out!
Recreating his role from the National Touring Company, Ciaran McCarthy gives a tour-de-force performance as the titular crooner. With a robust, expressive voice that belies his fresh-faced looks, this dude sounds like a young Richard Marx–and he even plays the Guitar! Fine support is given from the other members of the band also. Mathew J. Vargo is George, the scene-stealing (and aptly named) keyboard player. Not co-incidentally, this semi-cross dressing Karma Chameleon fancies himself to be the next lead singer of “Culture Club“–all done-up like his idol to hilarious effect. Likewise, Nick Bernardi’s “Sammy” is a slick talking ‘Guido’ who wears a string tie wrapped around his Mullet haircut and hikes the sleeves of his sport-jacket up past his elbows. Neither miss a beat and both are sheer joy to watch. Then there’s Mary Jo Catlett as Rosie, Robbie’s “Rappin’ Granny”. A familiar face to anyone with a TV, Catlett has plenty of terrific moments (–every time she’s on-stage really,) but especially in the second act when she ’busts a rhyme” with “Never Too Late To Move That Thaing” in which she raps “Forget rockin’ chairs, I rock microphones!” (Ms. Catlett’s numerous credits include “Pearl” on the hit sitcom “Different Strokes”, and sharp ears are bound to catch an ironic moment during her riff as Rosie utters that series’ prime catch phrase: “What’chu talkin’ bout Willis?!”)
Practically all of Composer Mathew Sklar and Lyricist Chad Beguelin’s pulsating score not only contain some totally rad references to 1980’s pop culture, but are specifically designed to call to mind some of the decade‘s gnarliest ‘Solid Gold’ hits. In addition, Beguelin also wrote the book along with original screenwriter Tim O’Herlihy, and together they’ve peppered it with plenty of homages–sometimes subtle, sometimes anything but–to the era as well. Robbie’s combo, for example, is called “Simply Wed” after the pop group “Simply Red” who (for a brief time) enjoyed some notoriety “back in the day”. Another stylish device has the messages Robbie receives from Linda and Rosie sung directly out front by those who have written them. Moreover, in that many scenes occur in either night spots or wedding receptions, great opportunity is given for lots of really ’bangin’ dance numbers, and thanks Choreographer Spencer Liff, this is where the show truly electrifies. From “Flashdance” to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”, he offer’s an inspired nod to the most memorable terpsichorean moments of the period–even Tina Turner’s signatures moves are represented!
“The Wedding Singer” performs at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center located on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, at 6200 E. Atherton Street, Long Beach, CA 90815. Show-times are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m., with an additional 7 p.m. performance added on July 17th. (Group rates are available for 15 or more and special discounted last-row seating is also available before every performance.) Tickets are can be obtained online at
www.musical.org , by phone at 562-856-1999 x4, or purchased in person at the Musical Theatre West Box Office at 4350 E. 7th Street, in Long Beach (Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m.) MTW deserves a round of applause themselves for bringing such a refreshing and likable show to local audiences; or to borrow from Robbie’s line in which he proclaims “Love is what I do”, for the talented bunch at “Musical Theater West”, creating a great musical experience is what ’THEY do” here–like, fer shur, to the max!
All photos by Alysa Brennan, Courtesy of Musical Theater West; Additional Thanks To Paul Garman, Gigi Fusco-Meese and the entire cast of Musical Theater West’s production of “The Wedding Singer” for making this story possible.