Fullerton’s Maverick Theater scores a coup by staging the 2006 Tony Award-nominated musical The Wedding Singer, and an entertaining production it is—a thoroughly enjoyable two hours of music, comedy, 1980s nostalgia, and romance.

I fell in love with Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin’s songs from my very listen to the Original Cast CD back in 2006 when The Wedding Singer opened and closed on Broadway. Though the show lasted only a shamelessly short nine months on the Great White Way, it nonetheless engendered two National Tours, neither of which played locally, thereby giving the Maverick production event status. Though this scaled-down intimate theater version is unlikely to match Musical Theater West’s big-budget Equity production this coming July, the Maverick cast acquit themselves remarkably well, making The Wedding Singer a thoroughly enjoyable two hours of music, comedy, 1980s nostalgia, and romance.

Fans of the hit 1998 movie will recognize the story of sweet-hearted wedding singer Robbie Hart (David Farkas), who after being dumped at the altar by trashy rocker chick fiancée Linda (Gretchen Dawson), begins to have feelings for girl-next-door waitress Julia (Sarah Weismer). There’s only one hitch. Julia is engaged to hotshot young business exec Glen (Mark Torres), news which doesn’t sit well with Robbie, especially once he’s learned that Glen is a chronic philanderer with no plans to give up his cheating ways any time soon. No wonder, when Julia asks Robbie to sing at her wedding, his answer is … perhaps not quite what you might expect.

Supporting characters include Julia’s party-loving cousin Holly (Katy Harvey), Robby’s still vigorous grandma Rosie (Sherry Domerego), and his bandmates, mullet-wearing biker type Sammy (Jeff Haut) and flamboyantly gay George (Marcus S. Daniel).

All these mostly lower middle class types come together in one of the most enjoyable musicals since the similarly blue-collar The Full Monty, and one which sticks considerably closer to its source material than the latter’s U.K.-to-U.S. transformation. Like the smash hit Adam Sandler original, The Wedding Singer (The Musical) takes its 1980s time frame very seriously, from the costumes and hairstyles sported by its characters to the many ‘80s pop references in its book (by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy) to the musical sounds of the ‘80s replicated in Sklar and Beguelin’s melodious songs and the dance moves given a Paula Abdul/Toni Basil flair by director-choreographer Curtis Jerome.

The Wedding Singer was Sklar and Beguelin’s Broadway debut as composer and lyricist, and a noteworthy one it was. Beguelin’s lyrics range from straightforward (“So when it’s your wedding day and my music starts to play, I can guarantee that love will find you”) to unexpected (as when a sweet and heart-felt “Note From Grandma” ends with the advice that “when you’re sad, remember, that Linda is a skanky whore”) to downright deep (“I know not every marriage lasts when things go bad. I’ve seen the warning signs. I call them ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’”). Even better are Sklar’s melodies, many of them as instantly hummable as any you’ve heard in a Broadway show in the past decade or more. The New Jersey native is not only a master of the catchy hook; he also writes out-and-out gorgeous bridges and knows exactly when a key change will turn gorgeous to gorgeous-er. Those who like their songs a bit more on the rough side need not feel left out as Sklar has written some hard-edged rock numbers like “Casualty Of Love” with you in mind.

With songs as terrific as these, it’s a pleasure to announce that the cast assembled at the Maverick for the most part do them justice, and that’s in addition to their all-around fine work in creating believable and largely sympathetic characters the audience can care about and root for.

Farkas captures Robbie’s genuine good-guy-ness, makes him just Sandleresque enough that we recognize him as the same hero we’ve seen in the movie, yet still makes the part his own … and plays a mean guitar. Harvey is a petite red-headed ball-of-fire as Holly, dancing and belting out the Act One closer “Saturday Night In The City” to do Madonna proud. As George, Daniel plays the gay stereotype with such infectious joie de vivre that you can’t help but love him as he steals scenes right and left. Mullet-wigged Haut proves a likable lug of a best friend as Sammy, Torres is appropriately snooty and smarmy as Glen, and Dawson makes for just about the trashiest big-haired, big-voiced Jersey girl in Fullerton. Domerego is great fun as Robbie’s still frisky grandma, and does a snappy rap in “Move That Thang.” Finally, making only her second Southern California appearance is Penn State alumna Weisner, every bit as captivating a Julia as Drew Barrymore was in the movie, with the added advantage of a rich, pure pop soprano that more than does justice to the most gorgeous of Sklar’s hooks, bridges, and key changes.

Ensemble members (Rocky Balboa, Mia Chiaromonte, Justin Goei, Zen Josey, Tommy Mosqueira, Alfonso Neavez, Stephen Reifenstein, Kristina René, Jack Robert Riordan, and Chelsea Umeda) do a more than commendable job executing Jerome’s energetic dance steps. Josey scores as Julia’s mother Angie, and like her ensemble-mates, plays a multiple-role track. If there is anything to be criticized, it’s simply that certain tracks require older performers, i.e. having teenagers play business execs gives the false impression of a student production. The production gets thumbs up for the inclusion of a same-sex male couple on equal footing with the opposite-sex couples who go from engaged to married by evening’s end. Thumbs down, though, for making the gay pair yet another example of a stereotype George already fills quite nicely.

Music director-conductor-keyboardist Benjamin Sagan does commendable work leading the show’s live offstage band (Sho Fujieda on drums, Mark Davidson on bass, Chris Luebeck on lead guitar, Ryan Navales on rhythm guitar, and Bryan Whitaker on woodwinds), and if the musical accompaniment is occasionally a bit rough around the edges, The Wedding Singer is one show where this doesn’t really matter, in the same way that the production doesn’t require fancy schmancy sets. Jerome’s are simple, but to little detriment, and more than compensated for by the over 150 fabulous ‘80s outfits designed by Heidi Newell. An effective lighting design by Jerome and Drew Boudreau and a mostly good sound design by producer Brian Newell complete the design package.

Lauren Shoemaker is stage manager, Jim Book and Newell technical directors, Cassandra Cade co-choreographer, Zellars dance captain, and Andrea Birkholm costume assistant.

Just as it did with last year’s The Producers, Maverick Theater demonstrates its skill at doing scaled-down big Broadway shows on an infinitesimal fraction of the original budget. Even better, since The Wedding Singer works perfectly fine without the Mel Brooks Musical’s glamour and glitz, it’s overall the more successful production of the two, and considering just how entertaining the The Producers was at the Maverick, that’s saying quite a bit.

Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut, Fullerton.
–Steven Stanley
March 6, 2011

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