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‘The Wedding Singer’ helps people remember 80s

By Staff | May 8, 2009

The Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre brings back the ’80s with a zingy production of “The Wedding Singer”, a musical comedy version of the 1998 Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore film. This show with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy opened on Broadway in 2006 and was nominated for (but did not receive) several Tony Awards that year.

“The Wedding Singer” is a flashy, simple story spending 2 1/2 hours in a satirical send-up of a group of New Jersey youngsters in love, while displaying the trends, fads and foibles of what couldn’t have been set anywhere but in the mid 1980s.

This musical isn’t just a rehashing of the film; it tries, in some ways, to be a skewered, absurd farce.

Sometimes this approach works – sometimes it doesn’t. The gags work when the book pokes fun at things we thought were hip, cool, or hot like The Clapper, New Coke, mile high, the “mullet” and the “Mohawk” hair do, big shoulder pads, leg warmers and thigh high patent leather boots.

What doesn’t work is merely pointing out these playful ’80s references without making any witty or wry comments.

On the other hand, what works big time is Amy Marie McCleary’s take on the 80’s dance numbers, which couldn’t have been more on target or sensational. This extraordinary choreographer milked every 80s dance clich for all it was worth, and while the dancers in this show were as good and as tight technically, exhibiting ideal drill team precision, they were as good as any dance chorus you might see on the Broadway stage.

The plot tells the story of a New Jersey, life-of-the-party (until jilted) wedding singer, Robbie Hart (J. Michael Zygo).

Stung by his ex-fianc Linda (April Monte), Robbie, a one-time wistful and romantic idealist, turns bitter until he finds solace in a sweet but klutzy, reception hall waitress named Julia (Jillian Zygo, Michael’s real life wife).

The plot twists here because Julia, unfortunately, already has a boyfriend – Wall Street wheeler and junk bond dealer, Glen Guglia (Brendon Schaefer). Now the plot thickens as Robbie’s pals, the band’s side men, Sammy (Adam Clough) and George (Ben Martin), examine money’s positive and negative influences on love and relationships.

Act II loses the plot’s money thread entirely when the story becomes more about what happens in Vegas and a gaggle of impersonators take center stage.

The musical score is also an impersonation of ’80s band sounds and tunes. We hear what sounds like Duran Duran, Boy George and the Culture Club, Van Halen’s Comets and the Beastie Boys.

Also recognizable in the Vegas bit are Cindy Lauper, Tina Turner and Billy Idol, among others. And though the musical score is conceived better than the book, you won’t be going home humming any of the tunes you just heard.

The cast was excellent, starting with J. Michael Zygo in the role of Robbie Hart.

Zygo was genuinely nice as his character is supposed to be, with a good voice and a pleasant comedic style – easily communicating Robbie’s heartbroken plight without becoming cartoonish – and dancing like a pro.

Jillian Zygo taps into heart warming charm with her singing, while portraying the pureness and disarming sweetness of her waitress character, Julia. Playful, impudent and sexy with just the right touch of raunchy naughtiness best describes April Monte as Linda, a sort of Madonna wannabe.

Playing the two wedding band sidemen were Adam Clough who was aces as the stereotypical, dorky heartthrob Sammy (complete with mullet hair-do) and Ben Martin as George shone both vocally and physically as a sort of “Boy George” knockoff.

Brendon Schaefer as the Wall Street bad boy had the charm, appeal and poise along with the shark toothed smarmy smile of the Michael Douglas based character he was evoking from the movie, “Wall Street.”

Ellen Karsten as Rosie, Robbie’s trash-talking granny with attitude, managed to nail every laugh as she shook her bootie, whether she was sweating to the oldies or rapping with the “in” crowd.

But the real “stars” of this show that rocked my world and moved the show from good to great was top flight choreographer Amy Marie McCleary and her hard-working, hard-driving, terrific dancers.

“The Wedding Singer” is the ’80s-styled tune fest and fun dance party that you won’t want to miss. The show will be playing at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre until June 6.

Stop by the theater at 1380 Colonial Boulevard, Ft. Myers, or phone the Box Office at 278- 4422 for tickets and reservations.

Be sure and remind ’em Marsha sent you when you call.