Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Take 'The Wedding Singer' To Be an Engaging Stage Musical? I Do. -- Theater Review

Theater Review

The Wedding Singer
a stage musical with original songs
Circle Theater, Oak Park, IL
Through October 31, 2010

I've only seen The Wedding Singer movie once, back near its 1998 release, but I remember generally liking it. In fact, it has the distinction of being the only Adam Sandler movie I recall fondly. The story wasn't profound, but kitschy fun.

Although it didn't exactly become major news and didn't come through Chicago on subsequent national tours, in 2006 a stage version of The Wedding Singer played on Broadway for about eight months. I didn't see it but heard the Original Cast Recording and found it to be better than I would've expected, especially as rather than recycle old pop hits such as those used in the movie, composer Matthew Sklar and lyricist Chad Beguelin wrote a brand new score.

This may not have been the most keen commercial choice, as The Wedding Singer closed on Broadway after only 285 performances despite earning five Tony Award nominations, yet in 2009, Rock of Ages--which similarly salutes the '80s but with well-known tunes from the era--opened on Broadway and is still running nearly 650 performances later (it also garnered 5 Tony noms).

I saw the Broadway tour of Rock Of Ages when it rolled through Chicago a few weeks ago and adequately enjoyed it (my review here), but even with my first viewing of The Wedding Singer being a local production by Circle Theater, and despite giving each performance a @@@1/2 rating, I credit Wedding Singer with being the superior show due to its daring to develop original music.

It won't make anyone forget My Fair Lady, West Side Story or Les Miserables, and even in terms of latter day comedic-movie-to-stage-musical concoctions, it's not as good as Legally Blonde or Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, let alone Hairspray or The Producers. But as unveiled by the typically reliable Circle Theater--which has moved a few blocks east on Madison Ave. from its shoebox storefront in Forest Park to a performing arts center in Oak Park--it made for an entirely enjoyable evening of entertainment. And while a less-than-full house might suggest otherwise, I think more local theater groups should stage under-the-radar recent musicals rather than repeatedly trotting out the same old classics.

Of course, I had to have the misfortune of sitting next to an inconsiderate woman who had her phone on throughout the whole show; it didn't ring but she kept texting and using the light to read the program. I moved to a worse seat for Act II just to get away from her rudeness. Not only does the audience deserve better, but it was entirely disrespectful to the performers, all of whom did an admirable job.

Photo Credit: Bob Knuth
Eric Lindahl was excellent as the titular character, Robbie, even if his mullet wig looked a bit goofier than likely intended. Even better was Rachel Quinn, who as his love interest Julia, was quite well-sung and delightfully engaging in the role that Drew Barrymore played in the movie.

Also amply demonstrating that the depth of Chicago area theatrical talent extends to small suburban productions were Kelli LaValle, Shawn Quinlan, Nathan Carroll, Britni Tozzi and Patti Roeder, among others. 

A few songs in Sklar & Beguelin's score hewed too closely to pop songs from the movie--such as Spandau Ballet's "True"--while clearly not equaling them, but less derivative tunes like the opening & closing "It's Your Wedding Day" and "Not That Kind of Thing" stood up pretty well as pop-infused showtunes. And though in some respects I missed the magic that the show's director (and Circle artistic director) Kevin Bellie used to pull off when stuffing big production values into a tiny space, the staging, choreography and on-stage band all added to what I consider a strong rendition of satisfying, though not sensational, source material.

Only three performances of Circle's production remain and while perhaps not vital viewing, The Wedding Singer can make for a memorable occasion, especially with very affordable tickets available through HotTix


A personal note of gratitude for Circle management: I had bought a ticket through HotTix for Friday night's show, but when surprised by a friend's belated birthday present of last minute tickets to see Bob Mould, I called and asked if they might accommodate me attending on Saturday instead without having to buy another ticket. Instead of strictly enforcing a no-exchange policy, the ticket manager named Beth simply said "Yes." I very much appreciate this and wish all in similar situations would show such class. 

Now if only they could make sure the cell phones are really turned off ;-)

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