REVIEW: "The Wedding Singer" — Morgan-Wixson Theatre, Santa Monica
Updated: Jun 20
"Morgan Wixson’s Newest Oldies-but-Goodies Rom-Com Tribute to the 80’s, “The Wedding Singer,” is a Ground-Breaking Smash Hit!"
The halls trembled, the rafters rattled, the audience was visibly shaken from the intensity…and we haven’t even mentioned the 7.1 earthquake debuting fifteen minutes into the show!
Rolling to thunderous applause (quite literally), regardless of nature’s nasty business, this time warp back to the days of mullets, shoulder pads and spandex pants, and all its rad, gnarly ‘tude is one of the most fun times out this summer.
Playing through August 3rd at Santa Monica’s most favorite theatre, “The Wedding Singer” represents the first installment of Morgan-Wixson Theatre’s brand new season.
Most of you will no doubt be familiar with the late 90’s feel-good movie of the same name starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Story-wise, the 2006 musical is more or less the same as the film. With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, the show was Tony nominated for Best Musical, Book, Score and Choreography, as well as Best Leading Actor, Stephen Lynch. Mr. Herlihy is a longtime collaborator of Sandler’s, and in addition to writing for Saturday Night Live, also wrote the scripts for “Billy Madison,” “Happy Gilmore,” and “The Waterboy.”
Set in 1985, Robbie Hart (Alexander Cooper) plays a nice guy who yearns to be a major rock star, but gets by with a day-job as a wedding singer, leading a band called Simply Wed that plays wedding receptions in New Jersey. The band’s energetic opener, "It's Your Wedding Day," a surefire barnburner, proclaims the show's aims, while the high-octane corps of celebrity look-alikes vault through synchronized, retro dance moves, influenced directly from 80’s MTV videos, but mixed in with original moves of their own.
Not only is Robbie an oversweet sentimentalist, he’s also vocally gifted. Calling himself “The Wedding King,” he genuinely believes in true love, and is so full of goodwill, he’s welcomed as family by every guest, smoothing over bridal jitters or minor couple squabbles and making everything perfect with his golden voice.
That is, until he is jilted at the altar himself by his fickle fiancée. Then he falls into serious depression ("Somebody Kill Me"), but is urged by his “hamming with abandon” bandmates Sammy (Doug Kiphut) and George (Deonte Allen), and even his grandmother ("A Note from Grandma"), to use that intense emotion to get back on his feet.
However, the angry Robbie does nothing but enrage the guests at the next wedding gig ("Casualty of Love"), and he is soon thrown into the dumpster by the fuming groom and his relatives.
A local waitress named Julia (Krystyna Rodriguez) convinces Robbie to "Come Out of the Dumpster," but, still despondent, he changes his singing gigs strictly to bar mitzvahs ("Today You Are a Man"). After the Shapiro bar mitzvah ("George’s Prayer"), Julia convinces Robbie to help her plan her own wedding, as her fiancé Glen is busy, as usual, with business-related affairs ("Not That Kind of Thing"). Falling in love with her, Robbie believes the lovely, honey-voiced Julia may be his only hope. And complicating matters, Julia's intended, Wall Street junkie Glen Guglia (played smarmily by the talented Steve Weber), is a Lothario womanizer.
Ms. Rodriguez taps into the warming, Belinda Carlisle charm of her songs with a disarming simplicity and purity, creating a prepossessing character you can’t help but identify with. This is most visibly displayed during her ardent song, "Someday," one of the show's musical highlights, which is in fact reprised by Robbie and Julia yet again, who both perform apple-pie and note perfect.
The energy really kicks off after the song ‘Pop!’ in Act I and right up to the closing song of the first half, “Saturday Night in the City.”
Some of the beats recall favorite tunes from the 80’s Billboard. For example, there’s a song called ‘Casualty of Love’ that’s a combination of “Thriller” and “Love Stinks.” “Right in Front of Your Eyes” is similar, stylistically, to Madonna’s “Material Girl,” and “Single” is reminiscent of the 80’s boy bands.
Directed with enthusiastic verve by Kristie Mattsson (returning to MWT after assistant directing “The 39 Steps” back in January), the musical’s plot stays close to that of the movie, in fact, some sections have completely identical dialogue.
Featuring songs by Sklar and Beguelin, the music echoes iconic 80’s tunes as nearly as copyright laws allow, but breaks out now and then into truly delightful numbers in their own right, such as “All About the Green,” Glen’s theme song at the beginning of Act II.
Robbie, by the way, lives with his Grandma Rosie (Miriam Billington) in New Jersey and sleeps on a vibrating bed rescued from a nearby motel. “Don’t worry,” explains Rosie. “It’s been disinfected.” MWT Publicity Director Ms. Billington is full of surprises, investing in Robbie's hip grandmother with old-school sang-froid and poise. Who knew she was the next Carol Burnett?
Her vignette appearances throughout the show overtook the audience in outrageous hilarity, and was so infectious that even her most wince-worthy moments (which, well, are all of them) consistently make her the most magnetic figure onstage. But Grandma Rosie’s electrifying hip-hop, “Move That Thang,” was the bust-out move of the show. (The original rappin’ grandma from the movie, by the way, lived to be 101.)
There’s also good support throughout, particularly from Holly Weber as Holly, as well as the statuesque Emily Holz as Linda, incinerating the house as Robbie's ex, whose two solos, “A Note From Linda” and “Let Me Come Home,” are both crowning moments.
Mr. Cooper brings a likeability factor to Robbie that was missing in the film. In truth, this role was actually written more for Adam Sandler’s style of comedy than for the character of Robbie Hart. Considering the malevolence associated with his performance at the wedding where he annoys and angers all of the guests, it’s little wonder he’s thrown in a back alley dumpster.
On the other hand, Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Cooper make a winning team. His lost-puppy look and her smile – the closest thing to sunshine onstage – are ideal for characters who are too shy to put the moves on each other. Instead, Robbie tries to wean Julia away from her skirt-chasing betrothed, Glen, while Julia tries to keep her pal Holly out of Robbie’s pants.
Great performances abound from the likes of Hollister Starrett, camping it up big-time as a Billy Idol look-alike. Come on, mate, it's a nice day to start again! Mirai Booth-Ong gives an indelible impression of Imelda Marcos, the shoe queen, and Eileen Cherry O’Donnell is perfect as bubblegum pop star, Cyndi Lauper. Chris Clonts clones the jelly-bean eating Ronald Reagan with his “Just Say No!” wife Nancy (Kelsey Nisbett). Jacques Chevelle Tolefree channels one of my A-Team favorites, Mr. T, and Jacklyn Uweh personates a very hot Tina Turner that treads the boards. The lovely Morgan Rysso portrays fashion designer Donatella, and the incredible Kelly Ciurczak plays “I Think We’re Alone Now” recording artist, Tiffany.
Sara Kaner is the Airline Agent, Nelson Balmore plays Grandpa, Kalila Horwitz is Glen’s secretary, Natalie Kahn is Angie and Crystal Bibi Moh is the Junior Executive. Michael Muita is Sweet Jim, Helena Nelson personifies the Sales Clerk, and Gianna Pira is a perfect Waitress. Angelica Roque is Female Swing, while Niko Montelibano represents the Male Swing. And Music Director and versatile actor Dr. Daniel Koh (“She Loves Me,” “Little Women,” “Seussical”) once again oversees all things music in this remarkable show.
Honorable mentions are such venerable 80's fixtures as The Clapper, New Coke, Mr. Belvedere, and Joanie Loves Chachi, evoking the period fads and new-fangled gizmos. And there's also no lack of attention to detail in the blinding pastels and California-influenced colors of the costumes, the mile-high-meets-low-flow-showerhead hair, and the Choreography (by Niko Montelibano), which slavishly recreates many of the era's defining dance moves.
But never mind all those with their names in lights — who is it that really keeps the Morgan-Wixson world whizzing round? Dance captains, that's who! And special accolades go to Esteban Hurtado (“She Loves Me,” “Newsies”) and assistant, Holly Weber (“Hairspray,” “The Drowsy Chaperone”) for the exceptional job of holding the production together.
The show is produced by Spencer Johnson. Director Kristie Mattsson’s staging is sleekly appointed, along with Technical Director William Wilday’s particular club-worthy lighting, assisted by Cambria Martin, along with elegantly serviceable set pieces from Tom Brown. Ms. Mattsson also serves as Costume Designer. Sound Technician Arielle Turkanis, working with test sound equipment, creates a well-equalized beat, although I think perhaps can use one level up in volume. Props are aptly handled by Ava Weyland; Wig Design is managed by Alejandro Bermudez, and Stage Management is supervised by Ashley DeFrancesco. The production Assistant is Jullian Stern, and Director’s Assistant is T.J. Biggs.
Now playing at Morgan-Wixson Theatre through August 3rd, “The Wedding Singer” takes us back to a time when hair was big, greed was good, collars were up, and a wedding singer might just be the coolest guy in the room.
It's a fun, vibrant blast from the past with some phenomenally talented actors, amazing choreography, brilliant direction and pumping music!
This show is highly recommended! Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.morgan-wixson.org/wedding-singer