The Wedding Singer‘s first show at the Orchard Theatre had the ultimate happy ending last night, when a member of the audience got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend live on stage. Still, even without that added bonus, you’d have to be a pretty hardened cynic not to come away from this show feeling a little bit in love with love. (And this from someone who by the interval was identifying most with the song about how rubbish it is to be single at a wedding.)
Based on the movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, this is the story of Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns), a wedding singer who loves helping happy couples celebrate their big day. But then his own fiancée Linda (Tara Verloop) jilts him at the altar and suddenly Robbie’s not so keen on romance any more – until he becomes friends with, and inevitably falls for, waitress Julia (Cassie Compton). The only problem is, Julia’s just got engaged to sleazy Wall Street banker Glen (Ray Quinn), while her cousin Holly (Roxanne Pallett) has her eye on Robbie. A brief spell in a dumpster, a trip to Vegas and one wildly inappropriate granny dance later, can true love win out?
Fans of the movie won’t be disappointed, as the musical is pretty faithful to Tim Herlihy’s story, with just a bit of a tweak at the end – and it even includes a couple of original songs sung by Adam Sandler in the film, though the majority of the musical numbers are new, written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin for the stage. It’s a catchy score, with a good balance of big dance numbers and soaring ballads, a smattering of so-bad-they’re-fabulous lyrics (“oh Linda you make me feel… like a furtrapper clubbing a seal”) and enough of an 80s flavour to help us over any disappointment at not hearing all the classic tunes from the movie.
And it’s not just the music; 80s-inspired set, costume and script mean this is very much a nostalgia trip in every way for those of us old enough to remember that far back. After enjoying clips from retro movies before the show, a brief ride in the DeLorean transports us back to 1985 and a world of big hair and even bigger mobile phones, where Starbucks is just thinking about going national and the height of ambition for any musician is to work with the same guys as Bon Jovi.
Jon Robyns leads an impressive cast (and a particularly hard-working ensemble) with a performance so engaging he has the audience half in love with him within minutes, so that when he gets his heart broken and goes to the dark side, his self-pity is endearing rather than annoying. Ray Quinn is suitably obnoxious as Robbie’s love rival Glen, really coming into his own in Act 2 with a show-stealing dance number that’s just one example of Nick Winston’s brilliant choreography. Cassie Compton’s Julia is sweetness personified, and both she and Roxanne Pallett as Holly impress with their powerful vocals, while Ruth Madoc – who the 80s kids among us will remember from Hi-de-Hi! – makes a welcome but all-too-brief appearance as Robbie’s grandma Rosie.
There’s so much to enjoy about The Wedding Singer – it’s funny, with a great cast (shout-out also to Ashley Emerson and Samuel Holmes as Robbie’s bandmates), toe-tapping tunes, engaging characters and a classic rom-com storyline that means you’re pretty much guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face – even if you don’t get to witness a marriage proposal – and reminiscing fondly about the good old days.
The Wedding Singer is at the Orchard Theatre until 25th March.