“The Wedding Singer” is no “Romeo and Juliet,” nor does it try to be. Shakespeare’s tragedy has been done and redone, just like the hairdos onstage now through March 31, 2012, at Theatre Cedar Rapids.
No, the only tragedies in the musical version of Adam Sandler’s hit movie are the fashion tragedies, washed down with a healthy homage to Poison, Twisted Sister, Madonna, Van Halen and other bands that made us say “might as well jump” onto the dance floor.
Theatre Cedar Rapids and its killer cast of musical misfits jump feet-first, body and soul into the ’80s, a decadent decade of sky-high hair as poofy and shiny as the dresses that destined many a wedding photo to the “ha-ha” files on Facebook and “Ellen.” The show opened to a full house Friday of screaming females, just like the good ol’ days when the Five Seasons Center really rocked. Thankfully, no panties were flung onstage.
Rob Merritt leads the way in the Adam Sandler role as Robbie Hart, lead singer for Simply Wed. He’s a rocker who’d really like to bang his head after witnessing one-too-many relationship disasters. His own pushes him right over Niagara Falls without a barrel.
Love becomes his battlefield as he spirals downward to a hair-band beat through more ugly reception scenes and one hilarious bar mitzvah. He packs his part with plenty of heart and is surrounded on his journey by more sparkle than a disco ball.
This show has so many showstoppers, it’s no wonder the fun spread through the cheering crowd and spilled into the lobby afterward. On Saturdays, it will keep on keeping on with karaoke and costume contests afterward in the theater’s Linge Lounge.
Only one member of the cast appears to have been more than a toddler or a glimmer in the ’80s, and she steals every scene she’s in. To think Amy Rehnstrom, a Kirkwood assistant professor of forensic science and microbiology, almost chicken danced her way out the door instead of into auditions. What a tragedy that would have been. She is hilarious (italics, all capital letters) as Rosie, the TMI grandma who lets Robbie sleep in her basement. Her heart-to-heart talks are peppered with plenty of salt and her “Move That Thang” rap near the end brings down the house. Her groove thing can still cut a mean rug.
Alisabeth Von Presley owns every moment of every show she’s in. She is a musical theater tour de force who should be in New York, but we’re lucky she’s in Cedar Rapids. In this wedding party, she’s the perpetual bridesmaid as Holly, a reception waitress and best friends with Julia (Nicolette Coiner-Winn), who catches Robbie’s eye. Holly is the life of any party, constantly nudging a reluctant Julia into the flash dance. When Von Presley sings, the neon rainbow melts into a swirling puddle.
Coiner-Winn was sweet as can be in a “girls just wanna have fun like a virgin” way. Unfortunately, her microphone died right before her first big solo opening night, which wasn’t her fault, but it meant she had to work harder to grab our attention after so many others already had.
All of the music is original to the show, not an oldies hit parade, which adds to the delight. The look, however, is straight out of MTV. Aaron Canterbury channels Dee Snider as George, Simply Wed’s flamboyant keyboard player who steals his every spotlight. He is campy, vampy and fun, fun, fun prancing through his songs with a Boy George wink and a flip of his twisted locks. Ben Lafayette rounds out the trio as Sammy, who reminds me of former Van Halen bass player Michael Anthony — always there, always steady, but able to leap to the forefront like a maniac when needed.
Every ensemble member gets a solo moment in the sun, and when they combine, they create a solar flare of sound and hustle.
Everything about this show is colorful, fun and over the top, from Derek Easton’s spinning scenery and lights to Joni Sackett’s appropriately trashy costumes, Patricia Offt’s wacky choreography, Leslie Charipar’s playful direction and Janelle Lauer’s bangin’ musical direction and band.
This is the complete package for an evening of retro magic and laughter, rolling from the East Coast to Las Vegas, with more situations than the Jersey Shore and a spot-on Tina Turner by Cameron Marcus Byrd tossed into a jackpot of celebrity impersonators at the end.
Tickets are flying out the door, so don’t wait too long to pull on your leg warmers and race to the box office.
- Diana Nollen