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Paulanne Simmons

"The Wedding Singer" Strikes the Right Note

"The Wedding Singer"
Directed by John Rando
Al Hirschfeld Theatre
302 West 45th St.
Opened April 27, 2006
Mon thru Sat 8 p., Wed. & Sat 2 p.m. matinees
$56.25-111.25 Buy "The Wedding Singer" Tickets
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons May 9, 2006

It often seems that no matter what the reality, decades are infinitely more pleasant and exciting in retrospect. Now, what "Grease" did for the 50s and "Hair" did for the 60s "The Wedding Singer" is doing for the 80s.

Based on the 1998 film set in Ridgefield, NJ, the show is a delicious romp through those times that brought us CD players, mobile phones, the end of disco and the beginning of rap, and Ronald Reagan.

The film was mostly an Adam Sandler vehicle, but the show, which features comedic singer/songwriter Stephen Lynch as Robbie Hart, the hapless wedding singer whose bride doesn't show up at his own wedding, is certainly not merely a Lynch vehicle, although he performs remarkably well in his Broadway debut.

Lynch is surrounded by equally talented performers, most specifically, Felicia Finley as Linda, Robbie's treacherous girlfriend; Laura Benanti as the winsome Julia Sullivan, the waitress who comforts him; Kevin Cahoon, Robbie's transvestite backup singer, George; and Rita Gardner as Rosie, Robbie's feisty grandmother. In fact, the entire cast and ensemble is top-notch.

But the musical hit onstage at the Hirschfeld Theatre is also a result of the exuberant direction of John Rando ("Urinetown") and an excellent score by Mathew Sklar (composer) and Chad Beguelin (lyrics), who previously teamed up for "Rhythm Club" and "Wicked City."

Sklar and Beguelin's score includes the best and worst of the 80s: rap, disco, soft rock, hard rock, even Klezmer in the hilarious "Today You Are a Man," which features the memorable line, "Just remember this, it's not your bris."

The plot of "The Wedding Singer" is made up of a series of clichés piled up to the sky. There are good girls and bad girls and bad girls with a good heart. There are false starts, misunderstandings, and love lost and eventually found. The ending seems to come out of the blue (book writers Beguelin and Tim Herlihy were apparently not satisfied with the ending supplied by the movie).

But the show manages to succeed because the energetic musical numbers harken back to a time when melody was important, Lynch exudes a bumbling likeability and Rando's direction is sharp and clever.

This reviewer is not particularly fond of Broadway turning to Hollywood for inspiration. But "The Wedding Singer" takes a film clunker and brings it to life on stage.

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