Shoulder pads, big hair and vivid colours come back to the future in the vibrant Australian premiere season of The Wedding Singer.
Premiering on Broadway in 2006, The Wedding Singer rode the wave of comical movie-to-musical adaptations that started with The Producers (2001) and continued through the noughties with guilty pleasures like Hairspray, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Xanadu.
Producer David Venn follows up two hit seasons of Bring It On with another crowd-pleasing selection that has been overlooked by local commercial producers. David Venn Enterprises fills a valuable slot between low budget independent productions and conservative large-scale seasons. The high standard of production of The Wedding Singer sees a significant step-up in confidence from Bring It On; future seasons are highly anticipated.
Based, of course, on the 1998 Adam Sandler movie, The Wedding Singer is a natural fit for musicalisation, with singing and music already permeating the lives of all the key characters. The show quenches the thirst for nostalgia (felt particularly keenly by Gen X theatregoers) with pop culture references aplenty. Audiences looking for an ‘80s musical jukebox need to keep in mind that The Wedding Singer has an original score by composers Matthew Sklar (music) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics) of The Prom fame. To their credit, the pastiche songs recreate the new romantic synth and heavy metal thrashing sounds of the ‘80s with great flair. Meanwhile, garish fashion and iconic dance moves provide ample retro joy.
Director Alister Smith shows a sure hand in establishing amusingly outsized characters that are nonetheless grounded with one foot in reality. The show moves toward excess and yet wisely never goes completely over the top. Ensemble scenes, particularly those at wedding receptions, have a real sense of life and diversity.
Choice choreographer Michael Ralph takes his mastery of the form in a new direction, displaying a delightful flair for visual comedy. Sampling unforgettable moves from video clips such as “Thriller” and “Material Girl,” Ralph delivers a cavalcade of laughs, all performed with his trademark inventive intricacy and tightly drilled precision.
Leading an off-stage band, musical director Daniel Puckey infuses the music with palpable joy. Working with a highly talented young cast, Puckey delivers pristine vocal performances, enhancing the accessibility and enjoyability of the score to new listeners.
Crisp scenic design is attractively enhanced with embedded strips of LED lights. Set elements tend towards the minimal, chosen carefully to flow smoothly between the plethora of scenes that always come with a movie-to-stage adaptation.
Costume designer Kim Bishop excels himself with a mind-boggling multitude of hilarious costumes, crafted with a keen eye for the overall stage picture. Bishop’s witty costumes reach their zenith in the climactic Las Vegas scene, in which the lead characters assemble an incredible set of celebrity lookalikes.
Christian Charisiou gives a terrific breakout performance as title character Robbie Hart. With a wonderfully likeable stage presence, Charisiou is required to carry much of the show and does so with aplomb, displaying the full range of talents of a musical theatre leading man. In particular, Charisiou pulls off the edgy aspects of Robbie’s persona, carrying the audience along with him even when the character is at his darkest.
In a lead role worthy of her considerable talents, Teagan Wouters keeps sweetheart Julia compelling to watch, raising the vocal stakes with her powerful belt for moments of added impact.
Dependable leading man Stephen Mahy cheekily hoodwinks the audience, his charming preppy look masking a dastardly drug-snorting womaniser. Shining out through her Madonna-inspired visage, Nadia Komazec elevates the role of Julia’s BFF Holly with a vivacious, endearing performance.
Ed Deganos scores ready laughs as wedding band keyboardist George, who gently nudges his friends towards his true self that they cannot see despite the penchant for Boy George costumes. Grinning out from underneath an impressive set of Bon Jovi-like curls, Haydan Hawkins creates a charming persona in band guitarist Sammy.
With an outrageous look that conjures the image of Divine as a grandmother, Susan-ann Walker steals her every scene as Robbie’s beloved grandmother Rosie, drawing the eye in a number of cameo moments in the ensemble as well.
Luxury casting indeed, Kirby Burgess turns the relatively small role of Linda, ex-fiancé of Robbie, into an absolute showcase. Transformed into a rocking Joan Jett, Burgess brings out the full musical humour of wedding day break up “A Note from Linda,” returning in act two for “Let Me Come Home,” which features an eye-popping dance break that would make a pole dancer blush.
In excellent voice, Hollie James shows her versatility and value, crafting a number of neatly individualised featured roles.
Sure to bring back long buried memories for theatregoers of a certain age, The Wedding Singer has broad appeal for all ages.
The Wedding Singer will tour to Gold Coast and Sydney. For tickets, click here.
Photos: Nicole Cleary