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The Wedding Singer – Theatre Review: Spotlight Youth Theatre, Glendale

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Despite a healthy run on Broadway in 2006, the musical version of The Wedding Singer has found the majority of its audience in regional productions.  Name recognition of the popular 1998 movie goes a long way.

Fans of the film will notice a number of differences between screen and stage, but generally the arc of the story is the same.  Robbie Hart (Mason Reeves) is the lead singer in an 80’s band called Simply Wed.  He lives with his Grandma Rosie (Maggie Waller) in New Jersey and sleeps on a vibrating bed rescued from a nearby motel.  “Don’t worry,” explains Rosie.  “It’s been disinfected.”

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Robbie and the band sing at weddings, hence the title.  After performing regularly at other people’s weddings he’s about to have one of his own; only it doesn’t quite work out that way.  His fickle fiancée, Linda (Payton Bioletto) leaves a despondent Robbie standing alone at the altar.  That’s where nice-girl-next-door, local waitress Julia (Ali Whitwell) comes in.  Even if you’re new to The Wedding Singer, what plays out is just as you would expect with no surprises, but there’s a lot to get through before true love eventually finds its way.

The fun of The Wedding Singer is its time and place.  The 80’s was a strange decade of differing musical tastes, dubious hairstyles and some equally dubious teenage apparel, inspired more often than not by the appearance of those colorfully influential pop/rock stars on MTV when the station actually played music.  Cell phones were as large and as heavy as bricks, and for some reason the introduction of New Coke was thought to be a good idea.  All of these references, including a nod to “Where’s the beef?” and the mistaken notion that no one would pay more than $3 for a cup of coffee, are all in the show.

Mason Reeves brings a likeability factor to Robbie that was missing in the film.  In truth, even though we’re meant to associate with the character and even feel sorry for him, his outburst and almost violent reaction to being dumped is frankly way over the top.  It’s too much.  Robbie comes across as nothing short of mean spirited, a reaction written more for Adam Sandler’s style of comedy where the comedian’s outburst was always part of his act than for the character of Robbie Hart.  Considering the nastiness associated with his performance at the following wedding where he angers all of the guests, it’s little wonder he’s thrown in a back alley dumpster.  A few visits to an Anger Management class might have helped. On the other hand, Mason’s portrayal of Robbie is so easy to like – he instills a keen sense of warmth the moment you meet him – it’s a shame he has to go through those out of character motions of in-your-face meanness just because the poorly written script calls for it.

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Ali Whitwell’s Julia is equally likeable, though she has the advantage of playing a character intentionally written that way, and the actor does it well.  It’s not hard to see why Robbie would be smitten by Ali’s Julia.

As with the film, the plot to Tim Herlihy’s script is paper thin and formulaic, plus the odd moment of foul language and the occasional f-bomb is here totally unnecessary.  In fact, as a musical, The Wedding Singer is mediocre at best; one of the reasons why its popularity is more regional than Broadway, but that has nothing to do with Spotlight Youth Theatre.

Source material aside, directors Mark and Lynzee 4man, themselves two highly talented local valley performers, have taken this flimsy material and injected the kind of life, energy and overall sense of 80’s fun to the Spotlight stage that, in the end, is more entertaining to watch than the show itself.  From the high-energy opening number, It’s Your Wedding Day, where the whole cast enter from both sides of the stage, the tireless vigor required makes the whole affair burst with life.  Lynzee’s energetic choreography hits the mark as it incorporates steps familiar from 80’s videos mixed with original moves of her own, and the terrific cast rises wonderfully well to the occasion.

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There’s also good support throughout, particularly from Marley DeGroodt as Holly, Maggie Waller as Grandma Rosie – her rap and accompanying dance might be unlikely, but it’s still a hoot – plus Payton Bioletto as Linda whose two solos, A Note From Linda and Let Me Come Home, are both musical highlights.

As a Broadway show, the book for The Wedding Singer is surprisingly charmless, but it’s what Spotlight does with it that’s important.  If anything, the simpleness of the show is a showcase for what the young performers of Spotlight can do, and in the end as with all local productions, that’s what really counts.

 For more regarding times, dates and tickets, CLICK HERE for the Spotlight Youth Theatre website.

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