Thursday, February 22, 2018

Rooting For The Underdog

Was 2018 the year that saw fewer people making fools of themselves on Valentine's Day? Have Americans become so numbed by school shootings, polar vortexes, Twitterbots, and the evildoing of the Trump administration that romance has flown out the window? Or has the #MeToo movement sent millions of men scurrying back into the safety of solitary masturbation?

Perhaps, with the advent of dating apps like Tinder and Grindr, it's become so much easier to get laid that no one wants to jump through a lot of hoops in the hope of hooking up. If one examines the plight of hopeless romantics from the silent film era, the kinds of obstacles they overcame for the slim chance that a woman would give them a simple peck on the cheek are simply astonishing.

Today, of course, things are different. Within certain minority subcultures, men can face unique challenges in their pursuit of romance. Consider the plight of K-von Moezzi, who bills himself as "the most famous half-Persian comedian in the world."

* * * * * * * * *
Bay Area Musicals is currently presenting The Wedding Singer, the 2006 screen-to-stage musical adaptation of Tim Herlihy's 1998 film that starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. This perky show, with a book by Chad Beguelin and Herlihy and music by Matthew Sklar, had a disappointing run of 284 performances following its Broadway premiere with Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti as its romantic leads. Nevertheless, The Wedding Singer has since been produced in Great Britain, Australia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and Abu Dhabi (where audiences might be more easily enticed by the exotic charms of suburban New Jersey).

For those who don't know, the story's protagonist is a young rock 'n roller who has been singing at weddings and occasionally writing some songs of his own. The action takes place in 1985, when Robbie (Zac Schuman) has already spent several years playing in a band with his friends, Sammy (Max Thorne) and George (Matt Ono). George is an openly gay man modeled on the famous British rocker, Boy George. Sammy is a bit of a doofus whose girlfriend, Holly (Alissa Sanchez), loves him but feels like he might be holding her back.

Max Thorne (Sammy) and Alissa Sanchez (Holly) in a scene
from The Wedding Singer (Photo by: Ben Krantz Studio)

Up until this point, Robbie has been living with his grandmother (Donna Turner) in Ridgefield, New Jersey, but looking forward to marrying his fiancée, Linda (Kaylyn Dowd). As the show begins, his band ("Simply Wed") is performing at a wedding where Robbie meets an attractive member of the catering staff named Julia (Jenny Angell). While the two seem to be extremely compatible, Robbie explains that he's getting married the next day. Julia is languishing on hold, waiting for her frequently distracted boyfriend, Glen Guglia (Depoy Ramos), to propose. Glen, however, is a Wall Street investment banker "bro" with little interest in monogamy.

Zac Schuman (Robbie) and Jenny Angell (Julia) in a scene
from The Wedding Singer (Photo by: Ben Krantz Studio)

Unfortunately, Linda pulls a no-show on her wedding day, leaving the mortified wedding singer alone at the altar. Deeply depressed, Robbie does a splendid job of ruining another couple's nuptials by viciously lashing out at their wedding party and guests. After the groom and some friends beat up the angry, inebriated Robbie and leave him in a dumpster, it would seem that nothing could make the night worse...until Julia finds him and explains that it might be wise for Robbie to stop performing at weddings and appear at bar mitzvahs, instead.

Many misunderstandings later, Robbie finds himself racing to Las Vegas to interrupt Julia's wedding to Glen (who gets beaten up by a bunch of celebrity impersonators working as Ronald Reagan, Tina Turner, Cindy Lauper, and Billy Idol). The desperate plot twists which lead to a happy ending bear a startling resemblance to some of the challenges Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd encountered as they sought true love in their silent films. With the obnoxious Glen out of the way, Robbie and Julia are finally reunited and cleared to marry.

A scene from The Wedding Singer (Photo by: Ben Krantz Studio)

Although the original Broadway production of The Wedding Singer was nominated for five Tony Awards and eight Drama Desk Awards, it received none and seems destined for obscurity. Some of that is because, overshadowed by the raging success of 2003's screen-to-stage musical adaptation of Hairspray, it was also competing against Jersey Boys, The Color Purple, and The Drowsy Chaperone. In some ways, The Wedding Singer also seems like a weaker send-up of the 1980s than Hairspray, with a script that includes timely references to everything from New Coke and bad hair to expensive coffee and giant cell phones.

Nevertheless, The Wedding Singer is a good-natured and highly entertaining show which is a perfect fit for high school drama departments and community theatre companies. Energetically directed by Matthew McCoy and buoyed by Leslie Waggoner's athletic choreography, this is the kind of second-tier musical (like The Unsinkable Molly Brown, George M! and 70, Girls, 70) that does a swell job of making audiences happy without aspiring to a whole lot of depth.

Working on McCoy's unit set (with costumes by Brooke Jennings and lighting by Eric Johnson), the only problem I had was with Anton Hedman's sound design, which made it impossible to understand Chad Beguelin's lyrics. Looking like a bit of a sad sack, Zac Schuman carried the bulk of the show on his shoulders while offering a stark contrast to the slickly reptilian portrayal of Glen by Jepoy Ramos. Jenny Angell's Julia, Alissa Sanchez's Holly, Kaylyn Dowd's Linda, and Donna Turner's Grandma Rosie all score strongly, with Max Thorne and Matt Ono turning in appealing performances as Robbie's back-up players. One member of the ensemble (Carlos Guerrero) gave off enough energy to power a national tour.

Alissa Sanchez performs a specialty number during
The Wedding Singer (Photo by: Ben Krantz Studio)

Performances of The Wedding Singer continue through March 17 at the Victoria Theatre (click here for tickets).

No comments: