The Wedding Singer – Review – Leeds Grand
The Wedding Singer – Review
Leeds Grand, August 2017
by Matthew Walker
There’s a long-standing tradition of films being adapted into stage musicals, with Hairspray, Dirty Dancing, Shrek and Sister Act just a few of the more recent adaptations. In 2006, The Wedding Singer, based on the 1998 smash hit comedy of the same name, joined that list.
The show premiered on Broadway – picking up a handful of Tony Award nominations including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Choreography, and toured the US twice before coming over to the UK in 2008. Now the second UK tour has reached the gorgeous Grand Theatre & Opera House in Leeds.
While the movie, starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, was populated with songs found on many-a-wedding DJ’s playlist, The Wedding Singer is no jukebox musical, and instead features all original music written by Matthew Skylar, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin.
Set in New Jersey in 1985, the plot revolves around band leader Robbie Hart, played by Jon Robyns – whose credits include Monty Python’s Spamalot, Les Misérables and Avenue Q – and follows his rollercoaster love life as he goes from believing that love conquers all, always, to being jilted at the altar, hitting rock bottom, and then finding himself falling for waitress Julia (Cassie Compton).
Robbie and his “Simply Wed” bandmates Sammy (Ashley Emerson) and George (Samuel Holmes) kick the show of by performing for a couple of newlyweds (It’s Your Wedding Day), and Robbie manages to smooth over a disastrous best man’s speech by professing the virtues of true love.
It’s this line of work that brings him together with Julia, who is serving at the same event, thus beginning the tentative will-they-won’t-they relationship that builds throughout the show. While Julia helps Robbie get over his heartbreak, he helps her plan her wedding to Wall Street big-shot Glen Gulia (former X Factor runner-up Ray Quinn).
As it becomes more and more clear that Julia and Glen are about as compatible as iTunes and an Android smartphone, the audience gets more and more behind Robbie as he tries to dust himself off and pluck up the courage to make a play for the woman he really loves – before it’s too late.
Although taking heavy inspiration from the era, none of the songs are particularly memorable. However the big numbers involving the full company provide some of the best moments. Particularly the song ‘Single’ involving the male cast, which due to some clever staging – a bar that runs the full width of the stage – shows off some fancy footwork by the dancers.
Another highlight is the collaboration between Robbie’s bandmate George and his grandmother Rosie (Hi-de-Hi! and Little Britain’s Ruth Madoc) for hip-hop-inspired ‘Move That Thang’. The show does also include ‘Somebody Kill Me’ – Robbie’s ode to his ex-fiancée – and ‘Grow Old With You’ from the movie.
The Wedding Singer is crammed with humour, and manages to tread a fine line between sexy and smutty (there may have been a few winces during ‘All About The Green’). A few well-placed cultural references such as a DeLorean, Starbucks going national, the Sinclair C5, and Robbie being aided by a handful of “fake” 1980s celebrities (Billy Idol, Mr T, President Ronald Reagan, Tina Turner and Cindi Lauper) – and sight gags, like huge cell phones with even bigger batteries, add to the nostalgic enjoyment.
Jon Robyns and Cassie Compton clearly have an awesome time in the lead roles, with Robyns showing a multitude of talents whether he’s singing, dancing or rocking out on his guitar. Ray Quinn is also on point as the sleazy and cocksure Glen.
Ruth Madoc and Samuel Holmes (Rosie and George) pretty much steal every scene that they’re in, while able support comes from Ashley Emerson (Sammy) and Stephanie Clift as Julia’s friend Holly – a role that initially went to Emmerdale’s Roxanne Pallett.
Ultimately, it’s the chemistry between the actors that really carries the message of the show. As Robbie’s pals urge him to get back on the horse and summon up the courage to tell Julia how he feels before it’s too late. They demonstrate that, in a world where it’s seemingly ‘All About The Green’, love really does conquer all.
images: Darren Bell