“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; and now couples all over Jersey hire me to insure their wedded bliss…” with these, the opening stanzas of the opening tune we are given the back-story of “Robbie Hart”—the title character in “The Wedding Singer”. The musical adaptation of the 1998 Comedy Blockbuster that starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the show remains perhaps one of the most underestimated stage-musical masterpieces (not to mention consummate laugh riots) in recent times! Now, “One More Productions”—the resident theater company at the landmark “Gem Theatre” in Garden Grove, California has given “The Wedding Singer” it’s full due in a totally awesome new production. Featuring music by Matthew Sklar and Lyrics by Chad Beguelin (with original music and lyrics by Tim Herlihy and Adam Sandler,) the book is by Beguelin and Herlihy who helped adapt his own screenplay. Directed by “One More Productions” Co-Founder Damien Lorton, this new production features lots of really bitchin’ choreography courtesy of Shauna Bradford, Alan Collins, and Heather Smith with additional dance sections conceived by Danny Diaz and Zach Martinez.
A shining star in that relatively recent region of the “Broadway” galaxy where the ‘Comedy’ in “Musical Comedy” reigns supreme, “The Wedding Singer” is a side-splitting flashback to 1985, where “Rock-Star Wannabe” “Robbie Hart”–lead singer of the group “Simply Wed”, is New Jersey’s favorite wedding reception entertainer. Why, for him the future’s so bright, he’s gotta wear shades—that is, until his own fiancée “Linda” leaves him at the altar via a sung ‘note’ explaining: “I woke this morning prepared to walk on air, but realized that you cramped my style (as I crimped my hair.) You’re just not that same person–the guy I used to know…I’m not in love with “Robbie Now” but “Robbie–Seven Years Ago.” Afterward, completely ‘shot through the heart’ (–and she’s to blame), Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. That is until “Julia Sullivan”–a winsome waitress and all-out ‘major babe’, manages to “Rock him like a Hurricane”—winning his affections; however, while Julia could very well be the “Nancy” to his “Ron” or the “Brooke Shields” to his “Christopher Atkins”, Rob is also frustrated to learn that she’s about to be married to a completely clueless Wall Street poser named “Glen Gulia” (making her, in effect, “Mrs. Julia Gulia”.) Taking a hiatus into the world he assumes she would prefer to his everyday life as a struggling singer, Robbie soon realizes he needs to make a comeback—and fast. Will this “Casualty Of Love” ‘rise up to the challenge of his rival’ and pull off the most bodacious performance of that rockin’ ‘Reagan Decade’? Or will his new “Dream-maker” and “Love-taker” flatly say “Don’t you mess around with me!” For those who survived them (or those who wish they’d been there,) “The Wedding Singer” is filled with plenty of heart and the excessive, uber-hip, fun of the 1980’s. Better still, “One More Production’s” treatment is like, a totally tubular send-up of that magic time when hair was high, the collar on your favorite Izod Polo shirt was upturned, MTV actually featured music, and an ordinary “Wedding Singer” might just be the coolest, most radical guy in the room!
Overflowing with witty lyrics and melodies that each suggest some 1980’s era hit (or several) the score even features a few numbers like “Grow Old With You” and “Somebody Kill Me” which were initially written for, and introduced in, the film but in this stage version receive a ‘more developed’ rendition. Begulin’s lyrics also house some very sharp and funny word-play along with some snappy observations about the era when we were reminded (at least cinematically) that “Greed was good” (“If you sell your soul at least you’ve made sale” it’s asserted at one point, which is soon followed by “Yo quiero more dinero!”) He also employs some clever, if unlikely, rhymes-schemes as when Robbie prepares his ‘song’ to his (believed) bride-to-be and needs some phonemes for “Awesome”: “Linda makes me feel—Awesome! And when I brush my teeth, she reminds me to ‘floss’ em’” He sings. Director Lorton once again makes imaginative use of “The Gem’s” overall space—resourcefully utilizing both stage and auditorium as he conjures up a swiftly paced, but touching romantic comedy that principally places the romance first (while allowing the comic and nostalgic elements to serve as strong support.) Lorton also has the knack for adorning his shows with terrific–and accurate–period references and sight gags, and here is certainly no exception. Maybe not everyone in attendance will get every quip and one-liner like those made about “The New Coke”, “Lee Ioccoca” or “Van Halen” breaking up, nor appreciate the near eye-popping clothes and hair-styles, but for those that do, they’re resoundingly effective!
Boasting a coterie of five choreographers, you can bet most numbers are abundantly staged in terms of large “group” (even ‘tribalesque’) undertakings, carried out in unison as were commonly seen in those vast, VH1 video throwbacks. The genuinely rousing opening incorporates some gnarly new-wave “running-man’ rotations and “Hammer-time” side-shuffles—in fact, opening numbers don’t come more ebullient than this (it’s just like you wish your Prom had been were it peopled by the cast of “Fame”!) They also infuse the second number “Someday When It’s Me” with some nice traditional waltz and promenade steps as Julia grabs the nearest partner (in this case, Brandon Taylor Jones) as her fantasy of a ‘Dream Wedding” unfolds before our very eyes. (Then, when our “Bride” ultimately throws the bouquet, it’s done in side-splitting slow motion as the Bridesmaids—led by the band’s sexually-ambiguous sideman “George”–all literally battle tooth and nail to catch it!) “Pop The Question” is also a buoyant and bubbly interlude—as one by one couples of assorted gender combinations get engaged–taking their joy out onto the dance-floor for a festive group endeavor. This is followed up by “Casualty Of Love”. A pulsating, driving, dirge (were it written and performed by “Quiet Riot”,) it ranks as a bona fide “Act One” winner as Robbie, mourning the loss of his lady-love “Linda”, boisterously turns a wedding reception into a full-on Donnybrook. For this one especially, the team make artful (and knowing) use of some distinct maneuvers winking at—but not exactly copying–Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video, as Robbie and all the other emotionally ‘walking dead’ strut their stuff while decrying the futility of romance. Then, for the first-act finale, choreographed by Dias and Martinez called “Saturday Night In The City”, all the stops are pulled completely out erupting into the flashiest kind of ‘Flash Dancing” where those assembled prepare to “party like it’s 1986”: “New York is reserved for the rich and proud” they all exhort “–but here comes the bridge and tunnel crowd!” Post intermission, the team hit yet another bulls-eye via the campy—but insufferably accurate–“Boy Band” posturing they create for “Single”. Contemplating the pros and cons of remaining (–by choice or otherwise,) “unyoked”, Robbie and his pals come together for a potent impersonation of “The New Kids On The Block”. (This also allows Robbie to veritably “fling” himself into some bangin’ “Break-dance” Beat-box ‘power-moves’ too!)
In the titular role, Edgar Andrew Torrens demonstrates how substantial a voice he’s got along with an appealing charm and charisma as our boy, “Robbie Hart”. Through him, just about every scene and plot twist develops, and Torrens is a man more than equal to that task. He impresses right off with the opening spectacular, “When It’s Your Wedding Day”, which introduces us to him and all the ‘salient’ players in the story we’re about to be told. His affability is then solidified with a handful of quick mini-intermezzos, like “Awesome” and his reprise of “Someday”. Even when “Rob’s” being a bit less than ‘sanguine’ after his own breakup, Torrens still heroically keeps us square in his corner, while mining huge laughs from the absurdity of his situation and his over-the-top, down-right nutty reactions to it! These give rise to numerous great instances within the course of “Somebody Kill Me” and “Casualty Of Love”; then, when he begins to begrudgingly realize his attraction to ‘Julia”, “Robbie’s” softer side is revealed with “It’s Not That Kind Of Thing”, and later, “Grow Old With You”—both of which assure us that our faith in him is not misspent. (This latter number then becomes a magnificent and melodic duet for him and “Julia” that directly leads into the rollicking finale.) Hannah Clair also is wonderfully memorable as “Julia Sullivan”. Her first solo, “Someday When It’s Me” is a first-class showcase for her voice and likeability, and she also shines delivering “Come Out Of The Dumpster” which sees her attempting to raise Robbie’s spirts after he’s made an utter disaster of yet another reception gig. Shrewdly taking the simpler, softer, route in terms of expressing it, this tactic pays off commendably while underscoring the song’s truly hilarious lyrics. Subsequently, her reprise of “Someday” early in Act Two (as Julia herself starts to doubt her future with “Glen”) is also admirably affecting. Together with Torrens, they share many moments—sung and spoken, but their second-act duet, “If I told You” is definitely among the very best of them—and categorically worth waiting for.
Right there with them are Robbie’s Band-mates and Best Buds, “George” and “Sammy”; in this production each are unique variations of the real ‘name’ luminaries whom they’re supposedly inspired by—chiefly, “Boy George” and “Sammy Hagar”. As the tambourine-wielding “George”—Rob’s fellow instrumentalist with something of an obsession over “Culture Club’s” famous Androgyne, Peter Crisafulli injects the proceedings with a fine, funny and fey spirit, and he also has a practiced way with tossing-off the punch-lines. He impresses with–and increases–the already high laugh-levels with his “interpretation” of “George’s Prayer”—a Torah Blessing (“Baruch Ata Adonai”) still in Hebrew, but performed in the polished, tranquil manner of Spandau Ballet’s classic Top 40 hit “True”. What’s more, Crisafulli inventively bestows it in a fashion that’s something akin to Lounge-Legend “Johnny Mathis” Meets Lilly Tomlin’s “drag” persona, “Tommy Velour”! So too, giving off a chipper “Ashton Kutcher” type of vibe, Tim Miller also furnishes his share of chuckles as “Sammy”—the band’s somewhat obtuse bass player sporting a haircut reminiscent of “Flock Of Seagull’s” front-man, Mike Score. Moreover, Producer and “One More Productions” Co-Founder, Nicole Cassesso has completely, magnificently, transformed herself into Julia’s cousin and gal-pal, “Holly” (who we also eventually learn, once dated “Sammy”.) Taking the stage by storm every time she’s on it, her “Holly” is like Julia’s brassy, gum-cracking, big-haired and too much make-up wearing, “Fairy Godmother” (picture a younger “Real Housewives Of New Jersey” celebutant Teresa Giudice back before she dropped out of reform school!) Disbursing lots of laudable support early on, she at last gets to manifest her considerable—and proven vocal talent with the lively “Right In Front Of Your Eyes”, as “Holly” and “Sammy” agree to give their admittedly flawed relationship another try. (“Every night a hundred guys come through the door. They take your breath away each time they take the floor…And they’ve got the bucks, the tux, the killer face; but you’re still thinking of that jackass with the bass!” she croons.) As it evolves into her own ‘fantasy sequence”, Holly is then joined by a line of tuxedo-clad chorus boys, and if you look real close, you may just glimpse various and sundry smart-but-subtle nods toward “An Officer And Gentlemen” as well.
Lawrence Havelka too, is disarmingly smooth and deceptively ingratiating as Julia’s two-timing Fiancée’, “Glen Guglia” (–he even wears his ‘sunglasses at night’!) A junk-bond salesman (–or as he prefers to call them, “High-yield Debt Instruments”,) he makes his indelible mark with the second-act opener, “It’s All About The Green” wherein we learn just how shallow, ruthless–and oblivious to profitable business trends, our “Glen” really is! Comprised of some deliberate, driving—but sleek and jivey exchanges, this number is like a musical boxing match executed by a brigade of ‘power-suit’ wearing “Yuppies” who are all extolling the glories of getting rich (primarily at someone else’s expense!) Havelka also has a pleasant, slightly folksy quality to his singing which, again, serves as a veil for the general smarminess of his character: “It’s all about the Big bucks, Fat checks, Midnight flights to LAX; Slush funds, High fives, Trading stocks—and trading wives…” he rhapsodizes in a rapid-fire recitative, going on to add, “Corporate hacks like stabbing backs and twisting arms real slow–but you only holler ‘Uncle’ if your ‘Uncle’ is the C.E.O.!”
Furthermore, Brianna Garmon as the magenta-haired “Linda”, also remarkably captures the spirit of both the times and her particular character—that of a gal who’s major goal in life is to be a Groupie for some Head-banging Hair-band like “White Snake”. And oh, what a smokin’ hot voice she has, which is made crystal clear through “Linda’s” melodic break-up ‘note’ that she sings to Robbie as he stands at the altar waiting for the two to get hitched; instead, he just gets ‘ditched’. Then, as the final ‘F.U.”, she signs it “Your Pal, Linda”! Following the break, she returns to thrill us all over again with “Linda’s” surprise re-appearance into Robbie’s life, leading to the sultry, high-propane powered rock-aria “Let Me Come…Home”. Staged as a hard-driving mock strip-tease chock full of salacious promise, this too, ranks as a significant highlight in the second-act. Meanwhile, Shannon Cutler’s take on Robbie’s “Rappin’ Grandma” Rosie, is also refreshingly unique. A much more contemporary (and decidedly more energetic) portrayal than has often been seen previously, in merely a scattering of segments Cutler manages to stand-out Big-Time (–and in all the best, most invigorating ways!) Her sung “note” to her grandson (who lives in her basement) is crisp, well-rendered and boasts a hilarious conclusion; then, her ‘rap’ duet with “George” entitled “Move That Thaing” is an eleventh hour treat in which she even manages some startlingly nimble footwork of her own. Not to be overlooked either is the comedic contributions made by Claire Perry as Julia’s Mom, “Angie Sullivan”. Sporting a perpetually filled martini glass in hand, she makes the absolute most of her time on stage giving us an outrageous blend of Fran Drescher and nosy sit-com neighbor “Gladys Kravitz”.
The formidable split-level set by Wally Huntoon dynamically recalls the one seen weekly on the hit 80’s dance show “Solid Gold”, with a curtain of “lights” situated upstage obscuring the live 7-piece band that backs the entire performance. He’s even incorporated a pair of prominent, protracted stripper-poles on either side, which are themselves at key intervals put to excellent use. Also spot-on are Larry Watts’ costumes, which encompass a vibrant use of color and flagrant “new-wave” patterns once so popular “Back in the day.” Indeed, Watts’ selections are like a wonder in themselves (–the costumes for the first-act closer “Saturday Night In The City” alone will blow your mind!) Featuring Robbie and his pals decked out in cherry-red blazers and matching shoes, also in evidence throughout are faux leather jackets (and matching pedal-pushers) humongous hair-ribbons, phony-pearls and beads, fingerless gloves, parachute pants —even Glen’s Money-Green designer suit! All are bound to have anyone who remembers this unforgettable decade asking themselves “What were we thinking?!” Complimenting them is Jon Hyrkas’ lighting designs which frequently and effectively uses light to convey emotion—such as in Linda’s ‘note’ when all goes flaming red once she angrily considers who Robbie ‘could have been”; he does this again in the midst of Robbie’s “Somebody Kill Me”—commencing the song with the stage awash with a deviously calm (or even symbolically ‘depressive’) “blue” as Rob sings the verse, then likewise flashing livid “red” for the furious refrain. He then tries a similar tactic with “Casualty Of Love”, as the dancers are bathed in sickly “green” as befits their elegiac capering. Right after intermission, Hyrkas’ next deploys some nifty revolving searchlights to canvas the stage floor, which helps usher us into the second half. At the show’s conclusion, the constantly changing back-wall lights aptly form into a heart in a sly allusion to all those “I Heart” bumper-stickers that seemed to be everywhere during this period. (It’s also a quite suitable send-off since you’re sure to “heart” this entire production!)
So say “I Do” to this madcap, mirth-filled, matrimonial ‘magnum opus’ at “The Gem Theatre”, where fer sher–delightful entertainment is totally what ‘They Do!” Having opened on Saturday, July 1st, “The Wedding Singer” is set to run through Sunday, July 23rd , 2017 at “The Gem Theatre” located at 12852 Main St, Garden Grove, CA. Performance run Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM, with Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM (There will be also an additional Saturday matinée at 2:00 PM on July 15th.) Tickets may be obtained online by visiting: http://www.onemoreproductions.com , or by calling: 714-741-9550 X 221. Special discounts for Seniors (60 and over), and for Children (12 years old and under.) $20 Student Rush Tickets are also available for Thursday and Friday performances and can be purchased 30 minutes prior to performances with a valid Student ID.
Production Stills By Lisa Scarsi, Courtesy Of Lisa Scarsi Photography (firstname.lastname@example.org ) Shoko Araki And “One More Productions” (www.onemoreproductions.com) Special Thanks To Shoko Araki, Lisa Scarsi, Damien Lorton, Nicole Cassesso, And To The Cast & Crew Of One More Productions’ “The Wedding Singer” For Making This Story Possible.