Entering Hart House Theatre for their latest production, The Wedding Singer, I noticed a piece of paper posted on the heavy wooden door at the entrance. Along with a few standard warnings about the production and its content, it also advised audiences in large, bold letters about the show’s use of “dangerously awesome amounts of synthesizer”. Any time you see a warning like that, you know you’re bound to be in for an interesting show.
The Wedding Singer is Hart House Theatre’s third production of the season and its sole musical offering. The play is based on the 1998 Adam Sandler movie of the same name, set in 1985, and it takes a similarly light-hearted and ’80s-infused approach to the likeable story. It follows Robbie Hart (here played by Isaac Bell), an underachieving wedding singer who reconsiders his choice of career after getting left at the altar at his own wedding by his bride-to-be, Linda (Sarah Horsman).
One of the most memorable elements of the film version was its soundtrack of ’80s hits. In the theatrical production of the show, you don’t get the authentic ’80s music, and the show instead opts for original, Broadway-style songs for the characters to perform. (However, if you’re hankering to hear some Foreigner or Billy Idol tunes, Hart House does kindly pump the theatre with ’80s-approved music before the show and during intermission.) And while the original songs for The Wedding Singer musical, written by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, lack some of the immediate catchiness and distinct sound of the music the movie pays tribute to, there are some gems in the bunch. “Casualty of Love” is a pumping rock number that finds Robbie defiantly leading a table full of single guests at the first wedding he performs at after his breakup. Meanwhile, “Saturday Night in the City” sees the cast heading out for a night on the town and captures the hopefulness in each character.
Hart House’s talented cast brought lots of energy to the musical numbers. After quickly shaking off what appeared to be some opening night nerves in the first number, Bell proved a charismatic leading man and perfectly evoked the goofy likeability of Sandler’s Robbie while still giving the character his own twist. Leading lady Ashley Gibson (taking on the Drew Barrymore role here) has the kind of pure singing voice that seems perfectly suited for Broadway.
Even some of the supporting cast had standout moments. Horsman completely nailed her hair-metal breakup number, unleashing a strong voice perfectly suited to this over-the-top power ballad, and Theatre Erindale alum Charlotte Cattell was hilarious as Robbie’s crass grandmother delivering the memorable rap number from the movie.
Some liberties are taken with the finer plot points, but overall, the stage version of The Wedding Singer stays pretty true to its source material in terms of story. Some of the dialogue is lifted directly from the screenplay, and the show does of course include Robbie’s touching original song from the movie, “Grow Old with You”. With a large cast and countless costume changes, the wardrobe also incorporates many signature ’80s fashion trends: shoulder pads, parachute pants, neon, and big hair. It’s all the stuff you’d expect, but it does the time period justice.
The ensemble cast here is quite large, and in my experience, productions with smaller casts tend to better suit Hart House Theatre’s intimate setting. At times, The Wedding Singer’s ensemble verged on overwhelming the stage, and things did occasionally feel a bit hectic. However, I understand their having wanted diversity in programming, and The Wedding Singer has an upbeat energy that would be tricky to convey with a smaller cast.
It’s difficult to talk about The Wedding Singer without using the word “fun”. There’s lots of genuine humour and the musical performances are fast-paced and frequent. It clearly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and everyone involved with the production seems to have the same light-hearted approach to the material. The show delivers pretty much exactly what you would expect from an ’80s-themed musical, and while that’s not going to appeal to everyone, The Wedding Singer is extremely accessible and enjoyable.
The Wedding Singer runs until January 25. Visit harthouse.ca for more information.