With the 20th anniversary of the Adam Sandler movie Wedding Singer this year, it makes for great timing for Sunnybank Theatre Group to stage the musical of the same name. One of the rare cases that the musical adaptation exceeds the source material, The Wedding Singer is a trip back to the 80’s in more ways than one. Big hair, shoulder pads, trashy music references and glitter (although we can always do with more glitter in a show like this), this is the type of show where more is almost enough, and a production team can truly push their limits in terms of creativity.
A great production choice for community groups, the dazzling amount of smaller roles really lets the full ensemble shine through, and in many cases within this production, we really got to see the ensemble step up to support a production that, for all of its fun, missed some of its marks.
Directed by Pam Cooper, the show moved fairly quickly, with good use of LCD screens to rapidly change scenes. To this end much of the traditional set could probably have been stripped out of the show altogether, and would have served to tighten the scene changes, but undoubtedly stage manager Diedre Robinson and her crew will get those down as the show progresses anyway.
Cooper made good use of the space, the side doors made good devices to separate scenes and generally kept things moving smoothly, resulting in a very clipped, clean production that was about the business of telling the story. What would have really elevated this production, is the exploration of all of the side stories going on, embracing the era and really going after the big hair, big make up, glittery, sweaty, mess of a show that Wedding Singer can really be.
Musical Direction by Sean Fagan was overall fairly solid. There were some balance issues, not through Fagan’s control, but by the sound set up. No mics was fine for the full ensemble work, and even the solos were mostly fine, but often solo lines during the full ensemble songs were lost. This is not to say that the band were too loud, the had an appropriate full sound, and if they had lowered their volume they would have sounded hollow so I commend Fagan on maintaining a mostly solid level. The band itself had a great sound (aside from some rough passages by the trumpet player), lifting many of the numbers and pushing the show along steadily.
Jacquie Cullen made good use of a small space for the choreography. Often using half the ensemble at a time to give the allusion to a dynamic, much larger ensemble, and a constantly moving space. Her routines were suited to the level of talent within the ensemble, and didn’t hesitate to show the stronger members off well, while never leaving anyone isolated or looking like they were too underperforming.
Supporting roles in the wedding band, playing Sammie, and George, were Scott Richards, and Elton Jun Camagay respectively. They had some delightful chemistry onstage, and I wanted to see more of it. Richards gave a really wonderful Jack-Black-esque turn as best friend Sammie and as George, Camagay had not only lovely comedic timing, but also a beautiful voice to match. I would have loved to see more of their friendship explored, in particular from Camagay who can easily ramp up the amount of glittery, shoulder padded, campiness that brings depth to their scenes. As a small side note, George is the keyboardist of the band, so it would make some sense for him to have a keyboard or a keytar.
Additional key supporting roles came from Sarah Roberts as Holly, Nathaniel Young as Glen, and Lisa Alsop as Linda. All three put in solid, committed performances. Alsop’s ‘Let Me Come Home’ was a hit, Young oozed Wall Street sleaze through the entire production, and Roberts had some delightful comedic moments. The three worked well in with the ensemble, lifting many of the group dance numbers including ‘All About The Green’ and ‘Saturday Night’. While all three gave performances that were commendable, Roberts lacked some vocal power and range for some of her solo work.
An absolute gem of a performance is put in by Lesley Davis as Grandma Rosie. Davis is sweet, sincere, hip, and just a little foul mouthed. She gives one of the loveliest performances of the evening, offering a warm support to every scene she is in, and often leaving the audience in stitches as she leaves.
As Robbie Hart, Chris Morphett-Wheately put in a committed effort. His onstage energy is admirable, however vocally he fell short of the role requirements, having some range difficulty, and at points was quite out of time with the music. I wonder at the production team making the choice for casting, not for Morphett-Wheately’s ability to do the role, rather his technique is lacking and the risk of vocal damage in this role is high. In terms of performance, Morphett-Wheately brought a large, bombastic energy to the role and certainly put his entire heart into the performance.
The performance of the night, hands down, bar none, is delivered by Katya Bryant as Julia. Bryant’s voice is stunning, and while she doesn’t always get back as much as she could from Morphett-Wheately, her sincerity is incredibly endearing, and lends a lot of credence to the onstage relationship. Bryant gives a soft, nuanced, performance throughout, and lifts the show up a few notches every time she is onstage.
Rather than a star vehicle for a Robbie Hart, this show became something else, a truly ensemble work, elevating the necessity of the chorus in particular, all of whom play a dizzying number of marrying couples, children, strippers, dancers, secretaries, and celebrity impersonators.
Something that was really enjoyable was how much fun the ensemble were having onstage, working together to put on this show. Particularly for a chorus with so few men, the male ensemble really dug in and gave it their all. Throwing themselves into the dances and ensemble singing required with gusto, it really embodies what community theatre is all about. A special nod must go to Laura Fois for her turn as Angie; Julia’s overbearing, deceptive, powerhouse, no nonsense mother.
Is Wedding Singer a perfect show? No. Is it a bunch of fun anyway? Yes, absolutely! The team at Sunnybank Theatre Group have created a fun, upbeat, community production.