Ah the 80s… a time before technology took over our lives, when people embraced big hair, bright makeup, tight clothing and fantastic music. The decade that gave us Boy George, Wham!, Ronald Reagan, Cyndi Lauper and legwarmers is often the subject of nostalgic films, books and pop culture… and for good reason. It was fun, fearless and supercharged with over the top music and characters.
Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer is one such nostalgic film. Released in 1998, the film starred Sandler as protagonist Robbie Hart, a hopeless romantic employed as a wedding singer who finds himself jilted on his very special day. Enter lovelorn waitress Julia (played by Drew Barrymore in the film) as an unlikely friend who helps Robbie understand the ‘true meaning’ of love.
The movie was a massive commercial success – and arguably one of Sandler’s best (and least offensive) offerings. In 2006 it was transformed into a Broadway musical, and the show has arrived in Calgary at Stage West Dinner theatre where it will play through November 8th.
While the stage production might be based on the film, don’t go expecting Adam Sandler impersonations and regurgitation of the popular flick. The story that many know and love has been given new life thanks to Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy who wrote the book, and there is ample new music provided by Matthew Skylar. The talented cast takes this material and runs with it – making the story of Robbie Hart all their own.
Hart is played by Aidan Desalaiz, and he brings a vulnerability to the role that allows us to feel genuine compassion for his character’s plight. His angst at having to question everything he’s come to believe about love is very real, yet even in the sad moments Desalaiz brings humour and laughter to the role without impersonating Sandler or being over the top.
Joining him is Canadian musical theatre sweetheart Elicia MacKenzie as Julia, and she provides the perfect balance of naivety and reluctant optimism that you can’t help but root for her to get her happy ending. As always, it’s a treat to hear her sing – her voice soaring alongside Desalaiz when they duet on hilarious tunes such as “Come out of the Dumpster”.
Providing additional comic relief are Ian Ronningen and Andrew McGillivray as Robbie’s bandmates Sammy and George – both men are fantastic singers and dancers who benefit from receiving some of the best material in the production. If you enjoy obscure 80s music lyric references and pop culture throwbacks, these two are the ones to watch.
Ditto for Dana Jean Phoenix as Julia’s cousin Holly, a self proclaimed bad girl who is the firecracker to Julia’s more nuanced flame. She sings and dances with energy and enthusiasm and delivers a fantastic ode to ‘Flashdance’ during the Act 1 showstopper “Saturday Night in the City”.
In fact, the entire ensemble shines and is the reason to go see this show. The choreography is tight, the singing first-rate and the laughter plentiful. You may go to the theatre wanting to hear the tunes you recognize from the film, but you will leave humming something new and with aching sides from chuckling along with the antics as they unfold on stage.
But before you fret that the production might be too different from it’s source material, let me reassure you that there is still a rapping Granny (Marcia Tratt) and I promise you, watching her shake her booty across the stage is far more fun live than it could ever be on the silver screen.
When and Where?
The Wedding Singer
Stage West Calgary
727 42nd Ave SE
On now until November 8th. For more information or to purchase tickets please visit stagewestcalgary.com