Review By Lisa Lanzi
A perfect ‘post-pandemic’ show with a full house (no masks, which felt a bit daring) and roaring approval from the delighted audience.
The Australian population is decidedly hungry for entertainment and this new production of The Wedding Singer by David Venn Enterprises certainly delivers a full serve of joy and energy. This production had its Australian premiere in Adelaide tonight with plenty of sparkle and applause to kick off the three week season before it moves on to Sydney, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
Let’s face it : the musical theatre genre is not for everybody when disbelief must be suspended to engage fully in the enchantment of the fictional, sometimes irrational, adventures on stage. Some people are addicted to musicals and some would rather scrub the bathroom and I guess there are several levels of appreciation in between. Based on the 1998 film of the same name with leads Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, this musical totally embraces the crazy 80s vibe of the movie, the music, the choreography, the fashion, pop culture and humour. It pays homage to the original US movie with a few minor alterations to the story but stands on its own merit with the talented cast stamping their own interpretations upon the characterisations.
Beginning on Broadway in 2006 the musical attracted mixed receptions from critics but was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Original Score, as well as eight Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical, Outstanding Music and Outstanding Lyrics. Book is by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy (who wrote the film screenplay). Music is by Matthew Sklar (Elf, The Prom) with Lyrics by Chad Beguelin (Alladin, The Prom, Elf). Original choreography was by Rob Ashford with direction by John Rando.
This brand new Australian revival is tightly directed by Alister Smith, a Green Room Award nominated theatre director who has guided many diverse productions during his career. A very smooth and fast-paced show, choreographer Michael Ralph has obviously taken inspiration from many pop videos of the time: think Madonna, Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul or film classics like Flashdance and Footloose. Ralph (Georgy Girl, The Boy From Oz and a Green Room Award for his work on Bring It On: The Musical) gives us spectacle, energy, tricks and great partner moves and the ensemble are meticulous in their skilled execution of the choreography.
I particularly appreciated the spare and functional set and stage design but cannot find out who is responsible for this! To give the scene changes variety the stage is layered both vertically and horizontally by sliding flats and staircases and other props flying in. Many of these shifts are seamlessly managed by the cast with nifty character cameos. Lighting too is suitably neon and flashy to suit the 80s sensibilities. The presence of metres of taffeta, tulle and spangles is due to the design expertise of Kim Bishop - and you won’t miss the (ugh!) baggy, pleated jeans and trousers or the shoulder pads. Musical Direction by Daniel Puckey matches the energy of the rest of the creative input with an impressive band delivering the original score by Matthew Sklar.
The lead performers do an incredible job with character interpretation, text delivery and songs. And every singing voice is a joy - clear, strong and on pitch. Christian Charisiou ably delivers his own original interpretation of Robbie Hart and with her pure, sweet vocals, Tegan Wouters is the kind-hearted Julia. Adelaide-born Nadia Komazec shines as Holly, her huge personality and talent emanating from the petite ‘pocket rocket’. Ed Deganos and Haydan Hawkins are the fun bandmates George and Sammy and Stephen Mahy is a suitably nasty Glen, all three performers totally owning their roles. Susan-ann Waker (Rosie), Kirby Burgess (Linda) and Hollie James (Angie) are outstanding in their feature roles adding another level of expertise and electricity to the entire production.
If you prefer your musical theatre shows with a little more grit and depth, you may find premise of The Wedding Singer somewhat lacking. However, this production is pure escapist, engaging and energetic fun with an excellent cast giving their all. I have no doubt that audiences will be delighted to travel back in time for an evening of adrenaline-charged entertainment.