Smile Politely

Nice day for a white wedding… reception

Some people may not want to be transported back to a decade that involved big hair, parachute pants, and colors so bright you could wear sunglasses and still somehow end up with eye damage. Fortunately, though, if you are looking for a way to go back to the beloved 80s, then the Illini Student Musicals group at UIUC has you covered with their own rendition of the musical The Wedding Singer.

The musical is indeed based on the film The Wedding Singer, just in case you were asking yourself that question. One of the things that I had to remind myself of while watching this particular version is that this isn’t Adam Sandler’s comedy. If you’re going to watch this musical, just erase Adam Sandler out of your mind. While the musical is charming and indeed funny, it’s definitely missing that over-the-top sensibility that Adam Sandler brings to the film. I’m okay with that, though, because what this musical lacks in Adam Sandlerness, it more than makes up for in chemistry between its lead characters.

The Wedding Singer takes place in New Jersey in 1985, a time when mullets were as ubiquitous as the iPhone is today. Seriously, if you didn’t have a mullet and a popped collar, you weren’t going to be the life of the party like main character Robbie Hart (David Naber). Hart is a wannabe rock-star, also famous for his wedding singing talents until his fiancée, Linda (Sara Costello) leaves him. Hart is distraught over this fact and decides to turn every wedding singing event he has booked into a disaster. Then a woman named Julia (Annie Keller) enters the picture, and Hart tries to change his tune in order to win her affections before she up and gets married to the ultimate 80s villain—a loathsome Wall Street shark named Glen (Janjay Knowlden).

So can Robbie Hart win over the beautiful and talented Julia—and the audience, for that matter?

One of the things that really stood out to me about this musical was the fact that every time Costello is on the stage she definitely steals the show. I’m not sure if this is due to her obvious background in theater or that she just plays Linda (the mean-spirited ex-fiancée) so well. Her voice and her persona really light up the stage, and the strobe lighting effect that the lighting designer chose for her solo piece (“Let Me Come Home”) is brilliant and really adds a mesmerizing element to the song.

Naber is definitely talented as well, and there are two songs in the production that really show off how gifted he is. I really enjoyed both “Somebody Kill Me” and “Grow Old With You.” I think one of the things that really makes these songs so great is that he was actually strumming the guitar. It’s awkward in a completely natural way, andhis voice fits that so well. It’s not a perfect voice, and it’s a little bit nasally, but that’s exactly what I want to hear from a character like this. Naber knows when to pause to let the audience laugh and how to play a hopeless romantic so well that it’s easy to see why he was picked as the lovable, adorable main character.

As soon as I heard Keller belting out the high notes in “Someday” I was astonished. How could this tiny girl have such an incredible voice? But then the moment is ruined by Sammy (Sean Tierney).

Ahem. I shouldn’t say “ruined.” I mean “interrupted” because Tierney definitely brings in a lot of comic relief with his amazing flock of seagulls hair. What I mean to say is that I really just wanted to keep hearing Keller sing. She has a great voice and natural talent that is definitely evident when she’s on stage beside Naber.

The Wedding Singer works with simplistic props, but I think that adds something to the show. The audience isn’t distracted by everything on stage, and it allows the audience to focus on the characters. One of the songs, “Saturday Night in the City,” has a little bit too much going on. There are too many people on stage, and the dance routine feels a little bit off; I’m not sure if it’s because there isn’t enough space for all of the dancers. But I think songs like “All About the Green” do a much better job. Less is more, especially when you’re working on such a small stage.

Another element that I found interesting was that the orchestra is placed in the center of the stage. At first it’s a little distracting, but then it’s kind of nice to be able to see the band; having them right there made me feel like they were put in theforefront. Sometimes, if the band is on the side, it’s easy to forget about such an important element of the musical.

Overall, this show is full of people with raw, natural talent that you likely won’t find on a professional stage. This is a stage of students that love what they’re doing, and they’re doing it for a good cause. The members of ISM are also involved in some really great outreach programs that involve performing for the elderly in nursing homes. They give vocal, technical, and dance rehearsal workshops and help with audition preparation for students and directors. If you’re looking for a fun-filled, charming evening full of pop music and comedy, then you will definitely find it in The Wedding Singer.

The Wedding Singer continues this Friday and Saturday evening at the Lincoln Hall Theater, 702 S. Wright St in Urbana. Tickets cost $10 for the general public and $7 for U of I students, and the show begins at 7:30 p.m. each night.

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