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By Sue Merrell
The good news is, Augusta Barn's production of "The Wedding Singer" isn't an Adam Sandler movie. Instead this kitschy romantic comedy is a retro rampage through bold colors, bad hairstyles, MTV dance videos and everything else of the '80s.
The story's 1985 setting is sufficiently passe to trigger hilarious memories. Remember those bulky bag phones? How about Jello shooters and "Where's the Beef?" And you'll love a dance routine to "Casualty of Love" that looks suspiciously like the "Thriller" dance video.
The basic plot of the 2006 musical by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy follows the 1998 movie (written by Herlihy). Robbie Hart (Eric Parker) and his bandmates Sammy (Roy Brown) and George (Jamey Grisham) dream of becoming rock stars but settle for singing at weddings. When Robbie's own wedding falls through, he sinks into a deep funk and resorts to playing Bar Mitzvahs instead of weddings. A spunky waitress friend, Julia (Emily Fleming), talks him into helping her plan her wedding to her self-absorbed, Wall Street fiance, Glen (Patrick Hunter.) Naturally, Julia and Robbie fall in love but have to overcome a series of misunderstandings before they get together.
I was worried the more mature Parker wouldn't be able to pull off the energetic young rocker role, but except for a long hair wig that got a little twisted, he was a full-throttle rocker with all the power and passion these songs require. As the waitress, Fleming has a sweet but strong singing voice, not to mention this fetching lopsided smile and wide-eyed innocence that make Julia simply irresistible. You know you're gonna love her from her opening number, "Someday," where she interjects herself between the bride and groom in all the usual photo opportunities.
One of the major differences in the musical script is that Robbie lives with his grandparents who are about to celebrate their 50th anniversary. This is fortuitous for The Barn, which pulls out a ringer, Dusty Reeds, for the role of the outspoken Grandma. Reeds has more than 50 years with the theater as an actress, director and designer. She adds plenty of bright-eyed spunk to the role, and Tuesday's opening night audience gave her a boisterous standing ovation at curtain call.
Matthew Sklar's music, with lyrics by Beguelin, definitely has an '80s pop feel, but that's not why I love it. It's just so much fun. "Pop!" is a catchy, syncopated number, with the addition of a couple of champagne corks, that makes an expected proposal full of surprises. I also loved "All About the Green," that pulls in '80s references like "Reaganomics" and frighteningly prophetic references to junk bonds and insider trading. Once again, musical director John Jay Espino and his four-piece pit band rattle the rafters in that old barn.
Before the show is over, Reagan and other '80s icons including Tina Turner, Imelda Marcos, Billy Idol and Cyndi Lauper, make appearances in an outrageous impersonator overload.
The show is a loose patchwork of punchy scenes that don't necessarily flow together musically, which is often the problem when movies are made into stage productions, but director Brendan Ragotzy keeps the action moving with the bare minimum of set pieces coming and going. Only once did a set change black out seem too long. Set designer Steven Lee Burright frames the stage in black, painted with confetti and streamers in fluorescent colors. Bold projections of color on the background screen give each scene its own pizzazz. Costume designer Michael Wilson Morgan seems to have had fun collecting gaudy '80s fashions and bustiers.
Like its era, "The Wedding Singer" may never be considered a classic, but it's fun while it lasts.
SHOW DETAILS: "The Wedding Singer" continues at the Barn Theatre, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta, Tuesday-Sunday through July 28. Running time: 140 minutes. Tickets: $34. For information: 269-731-4121 or www.barntheatre.com.
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