Chris Eldon Lee reviews ‘The Wedding Singer’ which is at Shrewsbury’s Theatre Severn until Saturday 16th September and the Wolverhampton Grand Theatre from the 3rd to 7th October.
I was totally surprise by how much I enjoyed this show.
The early prognosis was very dubious. For a start, it’s set in the naffest of decades…as proven by the selection of hopelessly dated 80s film trailers shown before the show even starts. I’d forgotten how bad ‘Rambo’, ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Goonies’ really were.
Any semblance of a coherent set is destroyed by a savagely high sliding wooden fence slicing the stage in two. The plot has all the substance of a Sunday afternoon hotel wedding faire. The early choreography is robotic and devoid of soul. The portrayal of gay men is cliched beyond belief. And the leading man – the eponymous Wedding Singer – initially comes across as a self-pitying, spoilt brat, crying into his microphone that he is a ‘Casualty of Love’ before going on to trash a happy couple’s big occasion by blurting out loud the sort of things that musicals never say about the institution of marriage … especially on someone’s wedding day.
I was beginning to think “this is utterly awful” when I suddenly noticed the logo on the drum kit … and the penny dropped. The wedding singer’s band is called ‘Simply Wed’ (get it?) and of course the whole show is a complete and cleverly disguised send up. (At least I hope it is). Now I know this, I’d quite like to revisit the first 35 minutes of the show again and revel in the joke.
The Wedding Singer himself turns out to be a well-rounded and rather sensitive anti-hero who is in love with just the right girl and wins her heart in the nick of time. It’s a hugely enjoyable, energy packed, performance by Jon Robyns whose career stretches from ‘Les Miserables’, through ‘Spamalot’ to ‘Avenue Q’. He’s got a sportsman’s chin and a rock star’s voice and isn’t above singing a song in a skip … about climbing out of “the skip of life”.
Cassie Campton plays the absolutely classic, humble, girl next door … in sensible skirt and homely smile. Their duets together are a recurring highlight of the show; though usually sung as far apart as possible … including a love song in which she is singing on a Pan Am Jet and he is on the ground.
Other stellar performances include Stephanie Clift as the girl who brings them together but can’t find love herself. I last saw Stephanie in ‘Crush’ in Coventry and her career does seem to be on the right trajectory. Her vibrant stage presence and remarkable singing voice should secure her stardom. And there’s a lovely pastiche ‘glamourous granny’ performance from a rapping Ruth Madoc who has swapped her accent from Barry Island to New Jersey and invests decades of show biz professionalism in a twinkling supporting role.
There has to be a men-at-the-bar scene in every American situation comedy. In The Wedding Singer we can see below the bar … and I fell about at the syncopated sneakers routine going on down below whilst the guys sing about being ‘Single’ above it. It’s a great song…as indeed are all two dozen new numbers which comfortably surpass the familiar pop songs used in the film.
I won’t pretend ‘The Wedding Singer’ will be everyone’s cup of tea (especially if you’ve just named the day) but as a new take on the old formula, it’s great fun and highly polished with it. (With the possible exception of the awful sliding fence.)