Wrapping up a season that began with the highly successful musical adaptation of the 1980 film 9 to 5, North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre dazzles us with another film-to-stage musical adaptation, The Wedding Singer: The Musical, based on the 1998 Adam Sandler/ Drew Barrymore comedy.
NRACT’s next season will be bookended by two other film-to-musical productions: Heathers and Ghost. Perhaps, the following season will include Die Hard: The Ballet or Das Boot: The Rock Opera.
In NRACT’s rendition of The Wedding Singer, Robbie Hart (played by John Millsaps) and his two bandmates, the Van Halen-inspired Sammy (Billy Hoffman) and the Boy George-inspired George (Chris Maxwell), struggle to make it as successful musicians while making ends meet as wedding performers.
Though betrothed to the psychotic Linda (Casey Cleland), Robbie begins to fall for local waitress Julia Sullivan (Morgan Abdalla). Unfortunately for everyone involved, Julia is betrothed to the Benetton-wearing, gag-inducing Glen Guglia (Mark Olexik). You know the rest of the plot: Sensitive Guy tries to get Token Chick from Jock Jerk. “I’m sorry it took me so long to realize that you were always the one for me.” Curtain.
The show’s Tony®-nominated composer, Matthew Sklar (Elf: The Musical) doesn’t provide much memorable material. There are a few catchy items, but the only real memorable material comes in the form of “Casualty of Love” and “Move That Thang.” Chad Beguelin’s Tony-nominated lyrics, however, are sharp and clever. The show’s real shine comes not from the score but from Beguelin and Tim Herlihy’s dialogue.
Herlihy wrote the 1998 screenplay, as well as every major Adam Sandler flick of the 1990s. The book, albeit highly predictable in plot, and low on character, contains some extraordinarily funny scenes. But the 1980s in-jokes are a little too wink-wink at times.
NRACT guest director/choreographer Chasta Hamilton Calhoun provides the highlight of the production: the choreography (with assistance from Alison Doud LaRue). The cast consists of mostly capable dancers, and those who are less-so are made better by Calhoun’s creative and 1980s-inspired routines.
This production’s other highly successful elements are Jessica Pissini Biviano colorful costuming and Ali Short’s hoard of hilarious wigs.
Tanner Stone’s set mixes the highly successful (dressing room stalls that transform into cafe tables with the more head-scratching (a black monolith on stage right). The effectiveness of the set is enhanced by Jeremy Diamond’s striking lighting design, operated by Victoria Barnes.
It is a challenge for any actor to bring to life a less-than-dynamic character, which The Wedding Singer has in abundance. Some actors are able to inject more personality into their characters than others. John Millsaps is charming and funny as Ronnie, and has a solid voice. However, on this particular night (May 28th), Millsaps’ energy seemed to wane as the show progressed.
Morgan Abdalla’s strong vocal talents are sometimes overshadowed by a poorly written character. Mark Olexik suffers from a similar fate as Abdalla — strong talent, one-tone material. Billy Hoffman’s Sammy is likeable, but the character falls flat next to the show-stealing George, acted and sung with comedic precision by Chris Maxwell.
Casey Cleland’s performance as Linda holds up against scrutiny, but the character is abysmally written. Destiny McNeill, while selling the character of Holly in book scenes and dance routines, is not suited vocally to the role. Rosie is the show’s true winning character, given Lydia Kinton’s comedic brilliance and vocal power.
The ensemble suffers from some missteps in casting. Some are well-suited to multiple parts (especially Brent Blakesley and Tyanna West) while a few are ill-fitting, often due to a stark contrast in the age of the cast. The celebrity impersonations were the most disappointing element of the production, with Blakesley’s Billy Idol as the sole survivor of the writers’ ill-advised gimmick.
Jonathan Rand’s otherwise strong performance in the ensemble is nearly derailed by an apparent lack of familiarity with Ronald Reagan. Since the cast members are playing impersonators and not the celebrities themselves, one could argue on behalf of character choice.
The Wedding Singer is entertaining overall. The dances shine, it’s visually exciting, and there are many humorous moments. However, missteps in casting and an slow-moving and poorly structured second act keep it from being pitch-perfect.
Still, this show is definitely a should-see!
SECOND OPINION: May 29th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Alan R. Hall: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=7996; and May 29th Raleigh, NC Triangle Arts and Entertainment review by Susie Potter: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/05/the-wedding-singer-will-make-you-fall-in-love/.
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre presents THE WEDDING SINGER at 8 p.m. June 2-4, 3 p.m. June 5, 8 p.m. June 9-11, and 3 p.m. June 12 at 7713-51 Lead Mine Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, in the Greystone Village Shopping Center.
TICKETS: $12 Thursday and $20 Friday-Sunday ($17 students, teachers, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 919-866-0228, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://nract.org/tickets.
SHOW: http://www.nract.org/shows#/the-wedding-singer/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/139624926441051/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.nract.org/, https://www.facebook.com/NRACT, and https://twitter.com/NRACT.
The Wedding Singer (1998 film): http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/319832/Wedding-Singer-The/ (Turner Classic Movies page), http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120888/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/WeddingSingerMovie (Facebook page),and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding_Singer (Wikipedia).
The Wedding Singer (2006 Broadway musical): http://www.mtishows.com/the-wedding-singer (Music Theatre International), https://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/402889 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wedding_Singer_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).
Matthew Sklar (music): https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/82828 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matthew_Sklar (Wikipedia).
Chad Beguelin (lyrics and book): https://chadbeguelin.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/402892 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chad_Beguelin (Wikipedia).
Tim Herlihy (book): https://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/402891 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Herlihy (Wikipedia).
Chasta Hamilton Calhoun (Raleigh, NC director and choreographer): http://danceexec.com/author/chasta/ (her blog) and https://www.facebook.com/chastahamiltoncalhoun (Facebook page).
Dustin K. Britt is a Raleigh native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches high school writing and literature. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.