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The Wedding Singer

by on 13 March 2019

Eighties Nostalgia

The Wedding Singer

by Matthew Sklar, and Chad Beguelin

Hinchley Manor Operatic Society at Hampton Hill Theatre until 16th March 

Review by Andrew Lawston

I was unsure what to expect from Hinchley Manor Operatic Society’s production of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy’s musical The Wedding Singer, directed by Helen Wilson. The show boasts a full slate of original songs, while the film on which it is based was full of cover versions of 70s and 80s classic tunes. The film was also very much a star-making vehicle for Adam Sandler, and I was curious to see how the adaptation would fare without his schtick.

The story of a struggling musician who has put his dreams of rock stardom on hold while he plays wedding gigs to make ends meet, and his relationship with a young waitress unhappily engaged to a yuppy, The Wedding Singer translates remarkably well to the stage.

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The production has clearly chosen to focus on the music, with a full live band kept out of sight, and a plain set with a gantry running across the back, designed by Wesley Henderson-Roe and Helen Wilson. The set dressing for individual scenes rarely amounts to more than a bed in a corner or a bar and stools centre stage, leaving plenty of space for energetic performances.

With such a basic set, visual spectacle is necessarily provided by an extensive wardrobe of colourful 80s “fashion” (courtesy of the large team of Kay Colston, Bernie Davis, Sandra Mortimer, Kelly Neilson and Gill Varon), and Sarah Jackson’s choreography. The dancing, from both the leads and from the spirited ensemble of Holly Artis, Colin Bousfield, Kay Colston, Suzanne Green, Tyrone Haywood, Shannon Hearn, Matt Howes, Kelly Neilson, and Katy Simon, is energetic, furious and well-drilled, with Holly Artis shining in particular.

It’s difficult to produce a musical set in the 1980s without acknowledging Michael Jackson, but it’s worth noting that the various bits of moonwalking, some costume elements, and an all-out homage to Jackson’s famous Thriller video do seem a little problematic, given current media discourse concerning the entertainer.

The music is top notch. The 1980s setting is acknowledged through heavy guitar work from Dominic Mackie and Connor Baxter, and crashing synth choruses courtesy of Shaz Dudhia and Musical Director Debbi Lindley. Alex Hinton-Smith also provides bass, so presumably Robbie’s bandmates aren’t playing their instruments live, but Scott Topping’s Sammy in particular puts in a highly credible miming performance. With the band completed by Joe Mackley on reeds and Josh Neale supplying some tremendous percussion noise, there are nods to classic songs from the era, but the original tunes are memorable in their own right. Stuart Vaughn’s sound design deserves special credit for the full concert feel to the music.

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On stage, Michael Leopold as Robbie Hart, and Hannah Vincent as Julia are strong and engaging leads with strong chemistry, crooning their way through the sentimental numbers, and leaving some of the biggest musical numbers (most notably Act One finale Saturday Night In The City) to be led by Katy Jackson in a barnstorming performance as Holly. Robbie’s most spectacular song is probably the melodramatic heartfelt Somebody Kill Me, where Michael accompanies himself on acoustic guitar while also acting as a man whose world has fallen apart. It was one of many demanding scenes for the performer, and he pulled it off with great gusto. Robbie’s self-loathing depression for much of the show is treated sensitively rather than being played for laughs, and I must confess that the anarchic chaos of Casualty of Love was much more fun than any of the more orderly wedding band scenes.

Meanwhile, Julia’s stand out song was arguably Come Out Of The Dumpster, which she performed with great comic timing. Hannah Vincent succeeded in bringing depth to a character who has few opportunities to be pro-active throughout the story.

WedSing5Robbie’s bandmates Sam and George, played respectively by Scott Topping and Jacob Rose are also constantly watchable. Scott remains sympathetic throughout the play, despite his character’s occasional misogyny as he pursues his ex-girlfriend Holly. Jacob has a tough task to keep George’s highly camp character from straying too far into stereotype territory, and it’s to his enormous credit that he puts in such an engaging performance despite apparently stepping into the role with only four rehearsals under his belt.

George performs in many of the wedding band numbers, and a hilarious solo effort, but his stand out song was clearly Move That Thang as a duet with Rosie, Robbie’s grandmother (a spirited and often cheeky performance from Catherine Quinn), which was just glorious fun.

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Emma Dixon’s vampy Linda provides an early highlight in A Note from Linda and later picks up the pace in Let Me Come Home. It’s a shame that the character didn’t have more of a role, as with Gill Varon’s confident performance as Julia’s mother, Angie.

Every good story needs a villain, and Zak Negri provided a wonderfully repellent Glen Guglia, Julia’s unfaithful fiancé. This Gordon Gekko character radiated quiet smugness throughout the production, making his final humiliation all the more satisfying.

The Wedding Singer moves quickly, and the cast and crew were clearly called upon to perform many swift set and costume changes. The production rocketed along at a slick pace, thanks to Stage Manager Sarah Woods and her team, and the show never felt anything less than completely professional.

The script is ambitious in that it excises most of the film’s best and most quotable lines (apart from the Van Halen t-shirt gag), but substitutes plenty of new jokes that follow the same path as the original plot. Lifted by this confident production, The Wedding Singer transcends its source material to become a hugely enjoyable night out, leaving the audience full of nostalgia for the 1980s, if such a thing is possible, and humming several of the songs into the foyer. Regardless of your opinion on the original film, Adam Sandler, and the 1980s, this production is well worth seeing.

Andrew Lawston
March 2019

Photography by Zak Negri

From → Musicals, Reviews

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