By Sharon Falduto
Photos by Alisabeth Photography
I’ve been a fan of “The Wedding Singer” ever since I saw a performance from it on the 2006 Tony Awards. As a member of Generation X, I feel that our generation is mostly overlooked in the pop culture department—we may have had a moment back there in the ‘90s, but for the most part we’ve been squeezed between the Baby Boomers and their relentless nostalgia and then the growing population of their Bieber Fever kids. There just weren’t enough of us born to shift the cultural zeitgeist for too long. For instance, I have no interest in ‘70s homage “Mamma Mia” whatsoever—ABBA songs mean nothing to me, other than my observation as a wedding DJ that everyone thinks they’re going to like “Dancing Queen,” but then anyone rarely dances to it.
So I was excited to have a musical that was a touchstone for my generation. It doesn’t just pull songs of one particular style. The songbook incorporates all the major ‘80s genres: hair metal, synthesizer music, line dancing, and a song that I swear is a Jewish prayer set to a Spandau Ballet riff. All the music is catchy, fun, and funny, and I jumped at the chance to see Theatre Cedar Rapids’ production of it.
The show is the musical version of the Adam Sandler movie “The Wedding Singer.” If you’re not a fan of Adam Sandler, not to worry—this show has much more heart and much less frat boy humor than you might expect. Our characters are Robbie Hart, “The Wedding Singer,” Julia, who is engaged to Wall Street mogul Glen, and a supporting cast of friends and family of the white trash, stereotypically gay, and rappin’ granny archetypes. Robbie and Julia meet as both are involved with other people, but naturally they are destined to be together—a plot point so obvious that their “engagement announcement” lobby card actually played in the lobby during the intermission of the show.
Rob Merritt is the literal star of the show, Robbie Hart, the lead singer of wedding band Simply Wed. When we first meet him he is about to be married, and his charm deflects tension in the first wedding scene. He convincingly turns inward, and slovenly, after he is left at the altar. The next wedding is a disaster, with Robbie being dumped in an actual Dumpster. Merritt’s voice was strong, his body language natural, and his hair fit in perfectly with the ‘80s—though in a low key sort of way. Through Robbie’s increasing ardor for Julia he begins to find his way back to being able to sing at weddings—without making the best man want to punch him out.
Nicolette Coiner-Winn’s Julia wasn’t quite as strong in her role. She has a sweet singing voice, but her physical movements didn’t seem in line with her feeling. I couldn’t tell a strong difference between her demeanor with Glen, the man she’s supposed to marry but doesn’t love, and Robbie, the man she’s starting to love but can’t marry. In an awkward bit of foreshadowing, when I attended on opening night, Julia’s mic didn’t work for her first scene. She could be heard, though she certainly wasn’t as loud as the others. Someone made the unusual choice to have another actress sing her lines from backstage, which caused a strange duet for a few bars until the actress realized what was happening and started to lip synch. Not a stellar beginning for the show.
Alisabeth Von Presley as Holly, Julia’s slut-with-a-heart-of-gold cousin, was the standout amongst a great cast of supporting characters. She commanded every scene she appeared in with her booming vocals, her strong stage presence, and her awesome half-toned 80s hair.
Ben Lafayette plays band member Sammy, a white trash sort of fellow who looks like he’d be at home as a backup member of Bon Jovi, and who also serves as a love interest for Holly. I tried to see what Holly could see in him but I couldn’t quite get to the essence of what made him a good guy—all I could see was, as she put it in song, “that jackass with the bass.”
Aaron Canterbury is the last member of the band as George, an obvious Boy George knockoff who never quite “comes out” but does wear his hair long and curly and his eye makeup thick, walks with a swish in his step, and tells us in song “I don’t like a girl that will cry and bawl—in fact, I never liked girls at all.” This was a fun character—I suppose if someone wanted to, they could protest the outrageousness of the portrayal of a gay man, but then hey—this was the ‘80s; everything was outrageous. Remember those shoulder pads?
Amy Rehnstrom plays Robbie’s grandmother, the sort of hip grandma who would buy her grandson a vibrating queen-sized bed as a wedding present. She’s a great character and Amy brought her to life with a stance that’s almost a squat and a voice that sweetly but strongly advises Robbie to remember, when he’s sad, “That Linda is a skanky whore.”
The ensemble actors and actresses were great, rotating through various archetypes (wedding guests, Wall Street brokers, club goers, and impersonators of ‘80s icons from Ronald Reagan to Tina Turner), and I loved some of the casting choices that were made with the actors available—the fact that, for instance, the same couple got married in each wedding scene, with the same best man, and the same maid of honor wearing a different hideous dress each time. I was, however, distracted by the fact that the actress who played Linda, the girl who dumped Robbie at the altar, appeared again in other scenes apparently as someone else—I wish her hair had been worn differently, at least, than the giant crimped blonde hair that was the overwhelming feature of Linda.
“The Wedding Singer” doesn’t address any particularly important issues of the ‘80. It’s a story of love, and loss, and finding love again, set to a rockin’ soundtrack with a ton of color. The laughs aren’t high brow, but they’re genuine, and those of us who were born between about 1965 and 1980 can enjoy all the jokes that seem to have been written just for us. But then, as the 50-year-old woman seated next remarked, “That was such a fun show!”