★★★★

Venue: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Production Run: Tue 23 - Sat 27 May 2017

Performance Reviewed: Tue 23 May (Press Night)

The Wedding Singer sets out its stall clearly from the off. As the audience take to their seats, a skewed, oversized video panel treats punters to a selection of decidedly 80s film trailers. The Goonies. Rambo.

Back to the Future. Naturally.

It’s a very welcome bit of flash and period curiosity, and if it may at first seem to suggest a slightly surreal hybridisation with 1950s drive-ins, a time warping video leap into the first number plants the audience firmly on 80s terra firma. 

The Wedding Singer pretty much hits the ground running from there. There’s very little wheel spinning or wasted time on-stage, the soundtrack sounds perfectly as though it were ripped from the era (it isn’t), and even the core story, adapted from the Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore chick flick of the same name, seems to be the apogee of standard 80s romantic comedy fluff, despite the film having landed in 98.

It’s a show that doesn’t have any loftier ambitions than tapping into the flashy, colourful fizz and pop of the decade, and goes about crafting a surprisingly competent and infectious musical in the process.

As said, the story is a pretty formulaic and predictable affair even for those not familiar with the film. Wedding singer Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) is jilted at the aisle by voracious fiancé Linda (Hannah Jay-Allen) and goes into a love-hating, despondent slump. Sweet-natured waitress Julia (Cassie Compton) might be the one to restore his faith in romance, but the tiny snag is she too has just become engaged to successful sleeze Glen (Ray Quinn).

You can see the major beats and story junctures coming a mile off, but The Wedding Singer doesn’t apologise for this. Is it style over substance? It’s too busy having fun to care. Some may argue that the impressive technicality of this touring production is an attempt to distract from the fairly trope characters and story, and in truth it isn’t difficult to imagine this being potentially insufferable as an amateur or pared back production, but what really comes across is a group of creatives giving the audience the most bang for their buck with the material they’re working with.

That could be being too harsh on Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar’s music, though, which is mostly great, frequently catchy, and given fantastic, spirited treatment by director-choreographer Nick Winston. ’All About the Green’, Glen’s morally dubious ode to financial success, plays like a hyperactive, reimagined take on ‘More’ from Ghost, complete with accompanying digital screens and electronic $ signs. Hart's disillusioned raging about those unlucky in love is leant a hilarious Thriller slant during 'Casualty of Love'. The bubbly, quasi-motivational hijinks of ‘Pop!’ feel like they could be plucked from, say, Hairspray or Legally Blonde, and the show’s numerous romantic ballads sound like the kind of thing Bonnie Tyler or Cyndi Lauper would’ve relished getting their teeth into. It all has a distinctly 80s filter, but the look and sound of Wedding Singer works very well as a piece of upbeat, celebratory musical theatre indeed.

Francis O’Connor’s set design and Ben Cracknell’s explosion of colour and light are similarly exuberant and ambitious, including plenty of amusing 80s curio (an advertisement for a $4,000 cell phone, anyone?). Having seen countless touring productions rest on their laurels, there’s no such slacking here; this is a great looking, at-times dazzling, production. Some of the bigger set pieces are genuinely inventive and audacious, and Winston seems to have crafted a real knack for making each number distinct in its own way. Thankfully, this extends to the more charming and quieter register of character pieces such as ‘Come Out of the Dumpster’, which are equally effective and well realised.

The Wedding Singer’s other main coup is its exquisite cast. Jon Robyns continues to prove himself one of the most promising performers to watch in the industry; his vocals are as rich, powerful and characterful as ever, whilst his funny, charming turn as Robbie poses the question of just how long it will be before his takes his rightful place as, say, Mormon’s Elder Price or Kinky Boots’ Charlie. Cassie Compton, meanwhile, can share in those plaudits. Her petite figure and diminutive stature belie a powerhouse voice, and she’s a sensitive, canny actress and comedienne to boot. The duos likeable character work and knockout vocals truly elevate the more pedestrian nature of the show’s paint-by-numbers romance.

Elsewhere, in addition to the aforementioned ensemble and swing, who are superb throughout, Hi-de-Hi’s Ruth Madoc gets a lot of laughs as Robbie’s spunky grandma. Ray Quinn is suitably odious and cuts a fine rug, as Glen, whilst Tara Verloop, Ashley Emerson and Samuel Holmes’ delightfully Boy George-esque keyboardist, all put in solid supporting work.

The Wedding Singer sits comfortably along the likes of Footloose, Fame and other shows (which, incidentally, circle the same era) as thoroughly enjoyable, delightfully cheesy evenings of musical theatre entertainment that pop out from fairly rudimentary narrative and character building blocks. This current production is astutely directed, brimming with character and fantastic performances, set to a wonderfully catchy soundtrack, and boasting an approach to its visual and technical design that keeps it all looking as colourful and energetic as it sounds.

In fact, in many ways it’s a lot like a good wedding reception itself; a bright, colourful, cheesy celebration surrounding that age old tale of boy meets girl. There’s also a surprisingly solid and irrepressibly 80s musical hiding under the hood of this particular DeLorean.

It might not take us 'Back to the Future' of musical theatre, but it still gives us one heck of a fun ride.

RATING - ★★★★

Tickets: 0844 871 3011​  / Official Website: click

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