The Department Of Theatre And Dance at Cal State Fullerton follows last spring’s Footloose: The Musical with yet another sensational salute to the 1980s, Chad Beguelin, Tim Herlihy, and Matthew Sklar’s The Wedding Singer, an adroitly concocted blend of music, comedy, and ‘80s nostalgia. Utterly delightful from start to finish, this is a “student production” in name only, and one that easily rivals the best our local CLOs have to offer.

Fans of the hit 1998 movie on which the 2006 Broadway musical is based will recognize the story of sweet-hearted wedding singer Robbie Hart (Jordan Sidfield), who after being dumped at the altar by trashy rocker chick fiancée Linda (Audrey Curd), begins to have feelings for girl-next-door waitress Julia (Caitlin Humphreys). There’s only one hitch. Julia is engaged to hotshot young business exec Glen (Mark Bartlett), 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 (Casey Canino), Robby’s still vigorous grandma Rosie (Eve Himmelheber), and his bandmates, cocky Flock Of Seagulls-hairdoed Sammy (Kevin Rose) and flamboyantly gay George (Edgar Lopez).

All these mostly lower middle class types come together in one of the most thoroughly 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 Herlihy) to the musical sounds of the ‘80s replicated in Sklar’s and Beguelin’s melodious songs, and production number after production number spotlighting choreographer William F. Lett’s high-energy ‘80s-inspired dance moves.

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.

Songs as splendiferous as these deserve performances to match, and with Cal State Fullerton offering its select bunch of students one of the country’s premier musical theater programs, it goes without saying that any CSUF cast will feature Broadway-bound triple threats galore. a group which this time includes a quartet of triple threats who’ve already won StageSceneLA Scenie awards for their previous work.

Sidfield, who won a Best Ensemble Scenie for his scene-stealing multiple role track in I Love You Because, simply could not be better or more charismatically winning as Robbie, a role he invests with such infectious charm that he has the audience in the palm of his hand from Scene One. Humphreys matches him every step of the way in her captivating performance as Julia, a role she invests with Jersey Girl grit and offbeat leading lady appeal.

About redheaded dynamo Rose’s Scenie-winning Best Performance By A Featured Actor in I Love You Because, I wrote: “Rose is such a firecracker of energy (boundless) and quirks (adorable) that you can’t keep your eyes off him and his brilliantly quicksilver performance.” Can I just say “Ditto” for his irresistibly effervescent Sammy?

Lopez gives Boy George wannabe George a sweetness and joie de vivre that add a third-dimension to an otherwise stereotypical role. Canino has exactly the right ball-of-fire energy to make Holly’s “Saturday Night In The City” a veritable showstopper. Bartlett, the two-time Scenie-winning star of The Who’s Tommy, is a terrific Glen, a hotshot heartthrob that any Julia would fall for … till she felt the hardness of his heart … and hair.

Faculty member Himmelheber is a nonstop delight as septuagenarian Rosie, whether offering grandmotherly advice to Robbie or rapping with George in the hilariously intergenerational “Move That Thing.” A dynamic Curd makes the most of every Linda moment, especially in her eleventh hour heavy metal plea to “Let Me Come Home.” Jessica Wilson, Ren’s mom in Footloose: The Musical, makes it two splendid moms in a row, this time as Julia’s, aka Angie.

James R. Taulli directs The Wedding Singer with imagination and flair, with the added advantage of a sensational from-the-ground-up scenic design by Joe Holbrook and an equally inspired projection design by Matt Schleicher, something that CLOs (who generally utilize pre-existing sets) can mostly only dream of. Holbrook’s two-level set allows Taulli and choreographer Lett to add an “upper string” of backup singers and dancers to a good many musical numbers. The panels onto which Schleicher’s images are projected open up occasionally, e.g. to reveal Glen seated at the wheel of his (until then only projected) DeLorean or Glen and Julia on a plane for Vegas. A pair of small screens at the top left and right corners of the proscenium project images being shot onstage with those behemoth (but then state-of-the-art) ‘80s VHS camcorders.

Sets, projections, and Emma Tremmel’s fabulous big-shouldered, taffeta-petticoated costumes spotlight trademark ‘80s purples, greens, and metalic grays, Schleicher’s ubiquitous projections inspired by iconic ‘80s album cover art, and in some particularly stunning animated sequences, by A-Ha’s iconic “Take On Me” music video. Joey Weldon’s vibrant lighting design and W. Ryan Creasey’s topnotch sound design add to the production’s overall professional look and sound. Averi Jenkins and Noël Walker once again work their hair and makeup magic as they did in Footloose: The Musical and I Love You Because, this time featuring big hair galore on characters of both genders. Dialect coach David Nevell gets high marks for making the entire cast sound as if they were born and bred in Ridgefield, New Jersey.

The Wedding Singer cast is completed by so many stellar performers that it becomes impossible to single any out without slighting others. They are Scenie-winner Chelsea Baldree (Debbie, Sales Clerk), Tim Fitzsimons (David, Bum, Billy Idol Impersonator), Justin Goei (Bad Haircut Guy), William Hoshida (Donny), Kirk Schuyler Lawson (2nd Waiter), Dominic Leslie (Harold, Donatella’s Father), Scenie-winner Micaela Martinez (Donatella), Charles McCoy (Mookie, Ricky, Bartender, Mr. T Impersonator), Hana Pak (2nd Waitress, Imelda Marcos Impersonator), Laurel Petti (Cyndi Lauper Impersonator), Jack Riordan (Shane), Andrew Sattler (1st Waiter), Salisha Thomas (Crystal, Tina Turner Impersonator), Catherine Traceski (Big Lady), Amy Trgovac (Sideburns Lady, Airline Agent), Gina Velez (Tiffany), Nick Waaland (Harold’s Dad, Priest, Ronald Reagan Impersonator), and Keaton Williams (Loser Guy). There’s not a weak link in the entire bunch.

Musical director Mitchell Hanlon conducts an equally sensational pit orchestra made up of himself, Jeff Askew, Jordan Ferrin, Peter Herz, Chris Hon, Scott Reese, Jason Rosenquist, Dana Seufert, Chuck Tumlinson, and Corey Witt.

Production manager/stage management supervisor Debra Garcia Lockwood, stage manager Kristin Neu, and assistant stage managers Ginny Cheung, Bridget Curtiss, and Miranda Whipple are joined by dozens upon dozens of CSUF students and faculty supervisors to make The Wedding Singer come to such vivid life.

Previously reviewed big-stage CSUF productions of Rent and Footloose: The Musical have set the bar high indeed for The Wedding Singer—a challenge which its director, performers, choreographer, musical director, designers, and crew have met with flying colors. Musical theater lovers are once again urged to put each and every Cal State Fullerton musical on their must-see list. With single adult tickets running a mere $22.00, less than 17% of what you’d pay this month for a non-premium orchestra seat for a Broadway show, there is truly not a better bargain (or a more all-around entertaining one) in all Southern California.

The Little Theatre, California State University, 800 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton.

–Steven Stanley
November 20, 2011

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