Talk about a “Jersey” thing! They’re partying like it’s 1985 over at “The Morgan Wixon Theatre” in Santa Monica California, where their latest on-stage offering is the uproarious, and ‘totally choice’, Tony-Nominated musical, “The Wedding Singer”! Transporting viewers back to the gnarly days of the mid-1980’s, this ‘way righteous’ adaptation of Adam Sandler’s 1998 Blockbuster of the same name features a book by Tim Herlihy (based on his screenplay,) with music by Matthew Sklar and Lyrics by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, with additional lyrics by Adam Sandler. This new staging is directed by Kristie Mattsson and Choreographed by Niko Montelibano, with Musical Direction by Daniel Koh.
Seasoned with an electrifying ‘pop’ score and heaps of high-powered–and higher-stepping dance breaks, “The Wedding Singer” hearkens back to the time when hair was huge, greed was good, no wardrobe was complete without a stereo “Walkman”, and the guy who sung at weddings could very well be the most bitchin’ dude around! Set in the heart of Newark, New Jersey in the year 1985, Rockstar-wannabe “Robbie Hart” is New Jersey’s most ‘in-demand’ nuptial crooner, along with his bandmates, Back-up Singer “George” and Bassist “Sammy” (after “Sammy Hagar”): “We’re like a finely tuned machine,” they tell us; “Sammy does ‘Van Halen’ licks, while George gets down on tambourine!” Fer sure, “Rob’s” the life of the party until his fiancée, “Linda” (herself a would-be “Rock-n-Roll” Vixen) leaves him at the altar: “You’re just not that same person, the guy I used to know,” she purrs in a note explaining her ‘Change of Hart’; “I’m not in love with Robbie ‘Now’, but Robbie ‘Seven Years Ago’.” Shot through the heart (and she’s to blame,) he inadvertently begins to make every wedding gig they play as disastrous as his turned out to be, much to the consternation of “Julia Sullivan”, a kind-hearted Cater-Waitress who will ultimately win his affection. As luck and bad timing would have it though, “Julia” is about to be married to a philandering Wall Street “Legend in his own mind” named “Glen Gulia” (making her “Julia Gulia”!) Hearing (and fearing) that this girl of his dreams is eloping, he at last snaps out of his funk, and at the urging from his devoted grandmother “Rosie” (–a woman with a decided flair for “fly-rhymes just like the pros”, ) “Robbie” even flies off to no place else than Las Vegas before “Julia” is gone faster than “Milli Vanilli’s” popularity! It all winds up with this pair of ‘accidental lovebirds’ surrounded by a bevy of 80’s “Celebrity” impersonators like “Billy Idol”, “Cyndi Lauper”, “Mr. T”, “Prince”, “Imelda Marcos”, “Tina Turner”—and even “Ron” and “Nancy Reagan”, leading to a big, splashy (but very festive and satisfying) finale worthy of a Vegas extravaganza—or (even more markedly,) an incredible production like this one!
As a stage-musical, “The Wedding Singer” is one of those remarkable cases where the musicalization categorically transcends and improves upon its source material. Herlihy’s script is exceedingly witty loaded with often sudden–and very ‘knowing’ laughs riffing on all the fads, fashions, furors and news stories of the decade—and doing it practically around every corner! Sklar, Beguelin and Herlihy’s score is, in a like manner, surprisingly inventive and well-put together, frequently referencing (and sometimes out-and-out naming) numerous now-classic Top-40 songs from the era (including two composed for, and taken directly from the movie.) In between, they saturate it with some pretty sharp and delightfully quick-witted turns-of-phrase that are bound to jar the recollections of anyone who actually lived through these utterly unique, ‘totally bodacious’ years. Happily too, this new staging at “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre” plays to most of these textual and melodic strengths, resulting in a charming, funny, and (for the most-part) family-friendly good ol’ time at the theater. Indeed, the nostalgic ambience begins even as you’re entering the auditorium with the entry-hall walls lined with vintage 80’s rock and pop LP covers; once inside, new sound equipment brought in just for this production blasts a collection of 80’s hits—all preparing you for more colossal goings-on the follow. Ms. Mattsson’s direction is lively, and free-flowing, with an inspiring trend toward finding the ‘realism’ in the outright farcical; this makes the characters, and what they’re doing so much easier to identify with. Yet, perhaps she and her creative team score their greatest accomplishments through their insightful use of subtlety in the props, costumes, and set concepts. Take, for example, the wedding cake for “Robbie’s halted wedding—jet black with angular, spiky patterns inlaid in dark gray! It’s just these minute “did you catch that?” touches that make this production particularly invigorating–and unforgettable!
Just as bracing is how the show gives itself over to plenty of ‘totally tubular’ dance numbers, and as pertains to this, the work of Choreographer Niko Montelibano, never disappoints! In fact, it’s very much apparent that he has solidly done his research in crafting these terpsichorean segments that enliven the entire spectacle. Right from the outset, snazzy techno-pop exchanges enhance and inform the opening endeavor: “When It’s Your Wedding Day” (—think Michael Jackson’s iconic “Thriller” video crossed with one of “Jane Fonda’s Workout” tapes.) This he follows up with an effervescent (albiet brief) little interlude implanted within “Someday When It’s’ Me”, as a bevy of “Bridesmaids” carry out some sporty ‘slides’ across the dance floor, culminating in some sidesplitting slo-mo ‘fisticuffs’ when the “Bride” throws her bouquet and we see the collected female throng scramble to get a hold of it. Subsequently, Act One’s conclusion: “Saturday Night In The City” showcases the whole gang—done up and gyrating just like they jumped out of an old episode of “Night Flight”, preparing to head off over the river to Manhattan to enjoy the exhilaration only an evening in ‘The Big Apple” can bring them: “Once you’re past the velvet ropes your wildest dreams come true, the dance floor smoke, a bump of coke, and everything taboo…New York is reserved for the rich and proud–but here comes the ‘Bridge and Tunnel’ crowd!” This too, caps off with another rousing chorale achievement! (–And boy, what a totally ‘outrageous’ way to end the Act!!) Act Two begins in a Wallstreet Office, with an ode to “Yuppiedom” (–something they thought was important back then–) titled “It’s All About The Green”, at which time “Glen” demonstrates just how insightful (–NOT!) a businessman he truly is. This too, gives rise to a humongous dance intermezzo, whither Montelibano shrewdly pays homage to both Michael Bennet’s “Office Party” free-for-all sequence from another venerated musical, “Promises, Promises”, alongside a few nods to Robert Plant’s equally emblematic (some would say, ‘infamous’) “Addicted To Love” video.
As the titular Hero, “Robbie Hart” (leader of the band “Simply Wed”,) Alexander Cooper presents a thoroughly likeable ‘every-dude’ with slicked-back hair and an A-Plus voice, which he continually gets to demonstrate in the abundance of songs the score bequeaths to him. He verifies his substantial tune-handling talent straight away with the jivey opening “When It’s Your Wedding Day”, which acquaints us with the character‘s background, those of his fellow-musicians, and the laid-back personality we can expect from him: “Long before the night is through, your Uncle Lou will be my uncle too! I’ll be so tight with your Cousin Steve, he’ll invite me over for Christmas Eve! I’ll dance your Mom around the room, and then present the Bride and Groom!” he croons. Then again, one of Cooper’s foremost strengths in this role lies in the way he’s stepped into some admittedly very sizable shoes, and not only fills them laudably, but also makes them seem even greater! The very reason he succeeds so well is that he doesn’t at all try to emulate Adam Sandler—and his entire performance is far more enjoyable (not to mention hilarious) for it. His turn during “Robbie’s” lament, “Somebody Kill Me” (another one of the film’s holdovers,) practically has Sandler in its very syntax (he co-wrote it,) but despite this, Cooper steadfastly (and refreshingly) follows his own star here and throughout. Shortly after this, he also dazzles leading “Casualty Of Love”—a driving, pulsating, ‘nervous breakdown’ of a tune, which also builds into a fine group effort to boot, as it swells into an intense, impassioned “Hair Band” “Music Video” come to life on stage. Krystyna Rodriguez too, finds the depth amid the opulence of absurdity that surrounds her, as “Julia Sullivan”–the true object of “Rob’s” affections (if only either one will stop long enough to recognize it!) Her precursory outing “Someday” is an admirable introduction to her vocal and song-interpretation capabilities as “Julia”, a server for a catering company specializing in weddings (surrounded by all the glad trappings of matrimonial bliss) dreams of her eventual hoped for “walk down the aisle”.
Afterward, her approach to “Pop The Question” is blithe, bubbly–and fairly funny, not just for her, but for all the female ensemble (to say nothing of two male waiters who unexpectedly also take the occasion to formalize their commitment to one another!) She also triumphs–again finding the inherent sweetness in the eccentric, with “Come Out Of The Dumpster” (where Robbie has been summarily deposited after his bitterness over his own failed relationship has him inciting a riot at one reception he was performing at.) After intermission, her reprise of “Someday” reveals how (as her big day draws ever nearer,) “Julia” has become not-so-sure of her match—now merely ‘hoping’ where earlier she used to ‘know’. Although as a pair, Cooper and Rodriguez’s initial joint effort occurs with a strange little ditty called “Awesome”, (as she helps him devise some suitable verses to be sung at his upcoming nuptials,) their first ‘real’ duet is with the sublime “Tell The Night”, as each try to convince others (but really themselves) that there’s no attraction between them. (This incidentally, also expands into a nifty full-cast undertaking, evincing some solid ‘group-harmony’ by its conclusion.) Toward the climax of Act Two, “Rob” tries to win his by-that-time-acknowledged Lady-Love’s heart with one last desperate measure reminiscent of John Cusack in “Say Anything” (–complete with the standard Boom-Box held high over his head.) This leads to their magnificent duet, “If I Told You” (arguably one of the best inclusions to the entire score,) which “Julia”, arrayed in the once-prized wedding dress that emotionally means nothing to her now, beautifully counters.
Another stimulating aspect to this show lies in the various colorful ‘dramatis personae’ who also inhabit it. As “Robbie’s” right-hand man, “Simply Wed’s” long-locked Bassist “Sammy”, Doug Kiphut provides outstanding support through much of the on-stage happenings; however, he takes center-stage leading the breezy, “Single” (which also includes some excellent ‘balladizing’ from “Robbie”, “George”, “Ricky” the bartender and Chris Clonts as a thoroughly blitzed-out, but conveniently placed, “Bar Fly”.) They even get to ‘rap’ while caroling forth the virtues of remaining without any “Significant Other” to spend their lives with (–who needs “New Kids On The Block” when you’ve got these “Drunk Men At The Bar”!) Rounding out their trio is Deonte Allen as “George”. Given that his was pretty much conceived to be a spoof on “Culture Club’s” flamboyant lead singer “Boy George”, Allen too handily makes this role consummately his own, bypassing any possible pitfalls to what could easily become a one-joke character. Instead, he gives us elements of him, in conjunction with bits of other notable ‘androgynes’ of the day like “Michael Jackson”, “Prince”, “George Michael”, “David Bowie” and “Mick Jagger”. This tactic affords him plenty of directions to go into, (rather than just the one,) and he’s also all the more memorable because of it. What’s more, he comparably makes the most of his key moments in the spotlight, starting with the fantastically clever “George’s Prayer”, delivered in Hebrew (the band having taken a temporary respite from weddings in favor of Bar Mitzvahs instead,) but sung in the manner of the 80’s group, “Spandau Ballet”. It’s just nutty enough to work—and he invests it with plenty of sincerity that makes it well-nigh brilliant, further galvanized by all the supposedly Junior-Highschool aged ‘wall-flowers’ awkwardly taking to the dance floor as he sings it.
Miriam Billington gets the gold-medal, scene-stealing role of Rob’s ‘Rappin’ Granny’ “Rosie” and she astutely gets the most mileage from each-and-every laugh! (She also utilizes an authentic New Jersey accent too!) Her deceptively lilting, “Note From Grandma” is well delivered with superior comedic timing, infusing it with just the right amount of ‘mock-sincerity’ in just the right places, easily making it a bona-fide crowd-pleaser in the first act. Then, when “George” asks “Rosie” to help the band out, (once “Robbie” makes a hasty exit to Las Vegas to halt “Julia’s” elopement to “Glen”,) Billington and Allen also come through with still more manic mirth with their shared rap-chanson, “Move That Thang”, as the two also perform some polished ‘poppin’ and ‘lockin’ maneuvers, thus also elevating this one into a major “Audience Favorite”!
Not to be overlooked either is Holly Weber as “Julia’s” somewhat…well, let’s just say ‘experienced’ B.F.F., “Holly”. Ms. Weber hands-over plenty of exceptional laughs and commendable support all through the carryings-on —but especially when leading the First Act break: “Saturday Night In The City”, helping to establish the mood with: “Don’t stop to question if you’re gonna score, being young and stupid is what Saturday is for!” She also hits a big, entertaining, bullseye with “Right In Front Of Your Eyes”, as “Holly” begins to re-think her feelings about “Sammy”. Backed by a troupe of Tuxedo-clad chorus boys (à la Madonna’s renowned “Material Girl” vid.,) through each ensuing refrain, she seems to grow ever fonder of this Bohunk whom she once tossed aside, making for an absolute post-intermission highlight. Moreover, gifted with a lavish voice worthy of a genuine Rock Diva, Emily Holz also makes a totally bangin’ “splash’ as “Robbie’s” skanky Ex, “Linda” depicting her as a hard-bitten, colossally-haired, Heavy-Metal trollop something akin to “Lita Ford”, “Joan Jett” or “Wendy O. Williams”, were they masquerading as “Disney” Princesses (–and dig her silver high-tops!)
She lusters with her terrific “Letter”—sung to inform our boy Rob that she’s leaving him literally as he waits on the alter; later (upon her abrupt return back into his life) bathed in scorching crimson light, she amazes all over again, with “Let Me Come Home” (more of a command than a request.) In it, she also gets to show off some sultry dance moves, joined by a posse of similarly dressed gal-pals—each sporting the same “Van Halen” T-shirt: “Hey, Psycho! We’re not gonna discuss this,” Robbie tells her; “It’s over! Now please get out of my Van Halen t-shirt before you jinx the band and they break up!” Portraying as close to a “Villain” as this piece has, Steve Weber is also a standout as “Glen Gulia”—”Julia’s” grasping and hyper-rapacious, ‘uber-douchebag’ of a fiancé. Nonetheless, even if his character isn’t exactly the best, the same could definitely not be said for the mighty voice he lays claim to. This he puts into the impressive service of the second act launcher, “It’s All About The Green”, wherein we discern that “Glen’s” an expert in “High Yield Debt Instruments” (better known to everyone else as “Junk Bonds”!) Musical Director Daniel Koh also plays several roles in the show as well, including the Groom in the opening, and “Ricky” the Bartender of the guy’s favorite watering hole.
It would also be fair to assert that this is a musical that thrives on its over-all “Look”, and fortunately here too, those responsible for these facets more than meet–and master the challenge! Tom Brown’s Set Design utilizes several smaller, mobile units (including a mini-stage for Robbie’s “band”,) which can be shifted and re-arranged as the situation requires. This is likewise a show with loads and loads of period-specific apparel, and the costumes–also by Mattsson—are a mind-blowing experience to encounter, each stunningly excessive (much like the 1980’s were in their own right!) Starting with the ‘way radical’ Blue “Lamé” Jackets, (with purple silk vests and shirts) that Robbie and his band sport as part of “When Its You’re Wedding Day”, also spied are a few gaudy floral-print Bridesmaid dresses (the comic implication being “what kind of Bride would ask her friends to wear these?!”) Furthermore, (depending on your point of view,) other attire-based bright-spots (or low points) seen over the course of the show include “Sammy’s” black vinyl zippered pants and turquoise blazer; the multi-hued parachute pants complimented by an “MTV” T-shirt which “Robbie” sports in the midst of “Saturday Night In The City”; or the every-bit-as garish pink-and-black ‘bustier-skirt’ get-up “Holly” is garbed in to introduce that self-same number; for a nice contrast, there’s also “Glen’s” appropriately Forrest-Green designer (knock-off) suit in “It’s All About The Green”, and “Julia’s” stately, understated (for a change,) ivory wedding dress—and this isn’t even taking into account virtually anything worn by “Linda”! Special kudos also have to go out to Alejandro Bermudez for his wonderfully over-the-top (and sometimes cringe-worthy,) Wig Designs which recall all the kitschy hairstyles back in those days of “Jeri Curl” and “Pizzazz” glitter-mousse; while Sound Technician, Arielle Turkanis too, deserves ‘resounding’ credit for making sure that all the pre-recorded music cues hit their mark at the appropriate time. Thanks to her, no song intro. is ever missed, nor any downbeat is ever ‘off-beat’!
So ‘take the vow’ to head on over to “The Morgan Wixon Theatre” where everything ‘old’ (…borrowed, blue, etc.) is new-wave again! Having opened on Saturday, June 29th , “The Wedding Singer” is set to play through Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 at “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre” located at 2627 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica CA. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM (Please Note: Special “Audience Talk-Backs” will take place immediately following the Sunday July 7th and Friday, July 19th performances.) Tickets may be obtained on-line by logging onto: www.morgan-wixson.org ; by phone at (310) 828-7519, or by emailing the Morgan-Wixson Theatre Box-office at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Production Photos By JDC Photography https://jdcphotography.zenfolio.com Courtesy Of Miriam Billington And “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre”. Special Thanks To Miriam Billington, Spencer Johnson, Kristie Mattsson, Niko Montelibano, Daniel Koh And To The Cast & Crew Of “The Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s” 2019 Production Of “The Wedding Singer” For Making This Story Possible.