I must admit that I am not a big fan of Adam Sandler movies. Too often, he takes low comedy to subterranean depths. The Wedding Singer is different. It is an endearing film that, if it doesn’t cry out to be made into a musical, at least stands up well to the transformation. The result, now playing at the Orpheum, is a charming confection.
The show closely follows the plot of the original. Set in 1985, Robbie is the lead singer of a band that primarily entertains at weddings, and he’s dumped by his own fiancé on the eve of their nuptials. He finds consolation in the friendship of a waitress, even though she is engaged herself, but to a real jerk. The inevitable fact that the two will end up together is never in question.
Writers Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy transplant whole scenes from the movie into the musical, which should not be surprising given that Herlihy wrote the original screenplay. The book is sweet, but also quite smart. Such a story cannot help but be sentimental, but its wit helps it avoid being treacly. The use of pop culture references from the 1980s adds much humor. From Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper to Flashdance to big hair and glam rock, the show gently makes fun of the superficial decade. And the elaborate physical production does it full justice.
The original film uses actual eighties hits in its soundtrack. The faux-eighties songs by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin are innocuous and forgettable, but they do capture the style and the energy of the decade. The strong dancing chorus is the propulsive force behind the show. The homage to eighties dance styles is particularly amusing.
Unfortunately, the two leads are the weak links. Whatever else you might say about Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the movie, they had personality. Merritt David Jones and Erin Elizabeth Coors are rather bland, whitebread knock-offs with none of the individuality of the originals. It doesn’t help that the show is written in much broader strokes and with far less subtlety than the film. Jones and Coors sing well and make the love story touching, but too often they melt into the background.
The show really gets its energy from the supporting cast. As the second bananas, a bandmate of Robbie’s (Justin Jutras) and his sort-of ex-girlfriend (Sarah Peak) are two tough streetwise kids from Queens, and their non-stereotypical performances almost steal the show. Penny Larsen as Robbie’s sexually voracious grandmother, John Jacob Lee as a Boy George wannabe, and Nikka Wahl as Robbie’s ex are also standouts.
The Wedding Singer belongs to a long line of shows, including Grease and Mama Mia, whose impulse is primarily nostalgia and, from the demographics of the opening night audience, it’s transgenerational nostalgia. The Wedding Singer clearly wouldn’t exist without the model of those earlier, superior shows. Five minutes after leaving the theater, it’s hard to remember a single tune, but for the two-and-a-half-hour duration, it’s pleasant entertainment.
The Wedding Singer plays through September 30 at the Orpheum.