Reviewed by Katherine Karlson
Love is in the air in Owego, as the Ti-Ahwaga Community Players wrap up their current season with The Wedding Singer, a musical by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy with music by Matthew Sklar. It is based on the 1998 Adam Sandler/Drew Barrymore movie.
June is not only a perfect month for weddings, but also to enjoy this lively musical, the latest in a long line of comedic takes on the theme of “The course of true love never did run smooth.” What sets it apart is its firm footing in the 1980s with just a hint of the screwball comedies of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Period references — such as Rubik cubes, brick cell phones and supremely ugly wedding gowns — abound as the story of two unlikely lovers who find each other unfolds.
The plot revolves around the trials of Robbie Hart, the titular hero, who fronts a wedding band and is about to be married to Linda. She dumps him, he meets Julia, herself about to be engaged, at a wedding gig, and the story takes off from there. There are the usual twists and turns, mistakes and pratfalls that season any romantic comedy, but there is storybook happy ending for all.
Eli Carlin portrays Robbie in a strong performance that is both sensitive and funny. Carlin could pass for a young Jack Black and shares some of his manic energy, which is tempered by a deeply romantic longing to find his true love, the woman he can “grow old with.” His character endures a series of emotional heavy hits, from being left at the altar to mistakenly thinking his true love will be happy on the eve of her wedding to another man.
Carlin maintains a dignity in despair and never descends into whining self-pity as Robbie constantly confronts his own romantic failures while he serenades other happy couples at their weddings. He brings out the depth and complexity of a character who is a seeming loser — a guy who lives in his grandmother’s basement and barely scrapes by as a third-rate crooner — but deserves to win the hand of his lady love.
Julia Sullivan, the object of his affections, takes sympathetic shape through Anna Simek. Julia thinks her marriage to a wealthy Prince Charming will be “Someday,” but it is through her growing friendship with Robbie that she comes to realize what constitutes true love. Whether she is coaxing Robbie to come out of a dumpster or he agrees to act as pack mule on a prenuptial shopping spree, they establish a relationship based on support, affection and respect.
The supporting players add to developing the theme of love gone wrong and right. Kerry Kane’s Linda, the fickle fiancée, offers up powerful, bluesy vocals and a wicked stage presence to match. Her deadpan removal of chewing gum before her first song contrasts with the no-holds-barred wrestling match that ensues when she begs Robbie to “Let Me Come Home.” Both songs showcase this actor’s considerable ability to belt out a tune and keep it fresh.
Ryan Canavan and Alondra Hughes portray the secondary couple, Sammy and Holly, as a 1980s version of Beatrice and Benedick. They have a history that neither will let the other forget, and their constant verbal sparring only serves to fan the flames of love that finally flare up brightly enough to show them the truth in the duet “Right in Front of Your Eyes.”
John Reidan Pitarresi is the third band member, who channels namesake Boy George, and has an inter-generational dance number with Grandma Rosie, played by Kathryn Morrissey-Burch. Rosie reminds us that love is ageless, especially when she apologizes to Robbie for making some noise at night with Grandpa.
Scott Saggiomo is spot-on as smarmy Glen Guglia, Julia’s betrothed. With his junk bonds, unfettered philandering,\ and occasional drug use, his character epitomizes the decade that proclaimed, “Greed is good!”
The ensemble members handle their multiple roles with efficiency and humor, whether they’re celebrity impersonators, wedding guests or nightclub patrons. The energy level is sustained, and, on opening night (June 7), the two-hour show didn’t flag or stall.
The choreography is imaginative and gives sly winks to some iconic dance moves: Guglia manages the Dirty Dancing lift of his partner but in no way makes it look easy. The slow-motion bridal bouquet toss is a witty moment of physical comedy.
All the characters in the play pursue various dreams: success as a band, marrying Mr. Right and living happily ever after, or something as simple as writing and singing the right song for your sweetheart at her wedding. The Wedding Singer showcases all these longings of the heart and ends with the promise, “I do,” to keep the one who matters the most.
Note; This musical contains some language and situations that are not suitable for children or young teenagers.
IF YOU GO: Performances of The Wedding Singer will be at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through June 23 at the Ti-Ahwaga Performing Arts Center, 42 Delphine St., Owego. Tickets are $20 ($18 for students with ID and for ages 60 and over). Purchase online at www.tiawhaga.com or call 687-2130.