This has apparently been my week to see musicals adapted from the backwaters of pop culture: Last Tuesday evening it was Legally Blonde: The Musical, presented by Broadway Across America at the Aronoff Center for a two-week run. On Thursday I was at Newport's Stained Glass Theater, where Footlighters Inc., a venerable community theater that stays up with current trends, is presenting The Wedding Singer through May 22.
Both shows are based on popular movies, and both deal in humor that's about as sophisticated as the average television sitcom. In my review of Legally Blonde, I objected to the stereotyping of characters, and there's certainly some of that in The Wedding Singer, a show about Robbie Hart, an average guy in a band who competes for the attention of Julia, a waitress who's been wooed by a Wall Street whiz (yeah, that happens all the time). But where Blonde just aims at the lowest common denominator for humor and jokes, Wedding Singer has a lot more heart — and that gives Footlighters' production, directed by Mark Femia, a winning way.
A lot of this production's likability is rooted in Femia's big, enthusiastic cast, a majority of them students from the theater program at Northern Kentucky University.
Robbie and Julia are engaged to people they don't belong with. The "drama" comes as their misbegotten relationships unravel and they see one another as better choices. (The 1998 film was one of Adam Sandler's first, with Drew Barrymore playing the sweetly innocent Julia.)
Ryan Shealy and Monica Tenhover, both NKU students (pictured above), handle their roles nicely. He has a natural and earnest way about him, and she conveys her character's straightforward, honest manner in a very attractive way. Tenhover has a voice that's worth hearing, and Laura Wacksman does a bang-up job as Holly, Julia's "easy" friend who has a heart of gold and some musical numbers that are great fun. Robbie's bandmates, George (a kind of Boy George wannabe) and Sammy, get energetic and entertaining characterizations by Charles Croley and Benjamin Yurchison. Also noteworthy are Chuck Knippen as Julia's arrogant fiancé and Sharon Hill as Rose, Robbie's spunky grandmother who hasn't lost her youthful spirit.
There's a ton of singing and dancing in this show, and Julia Keeney's choreography keeps the cast moving — for an amateur production, the dance routines are impressive in their design and execution. The same could be said for the show's costumes, designed by Diane Carr. Each of the many performers plays multiple characters, and most of them change costumes (and roles) a half-dozen times. Many scenes are nicely identified by costume coloration: a nightclub dominated by trendy black outfits, wedding halls with ’80s gear and so on.
Set in 1985, The Wedding Singer relies (perhaps a bit too much) on nostalgia for an era that doesn't have all that much to be nostalgic about. But this production makes the most of it, including having a DJ as pre-show entertainment, chatting up the audience, doing ’80s trivia and playing requests. It was a clever touch.
But the best part of The Wedding Singer is characters who come across as believable, everyday young people who meet and fall in love with a bit of misadventure along the way. The story's not all that original — you've heard these songs before — but you want them to be happy together. That's a nice tune for a contemporary musical.