A Wonderful Wedding Romp
The Wedding Singer
River City Community Players
I had the chance to make the journey out to the RCCP production of the musical The Wedding Singer, and let me tell you… it was well worth the trip. I have seen several versions of this show and Eric Van Horn has directed a top notch show filled with heart, fun and fluff that would make the movie and the 80's itself very proud.
For those of you unfamiliar with the film of the same name staring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the story centers around Robbie Hart(Played by Brian Shortess), a hard working wedding singer in 1985 Ridgefield New Jersey, hopeless romantic who lives in his grandma Rosies' (Tracy Mcclung) basement and is about to be married to the girl of his dreams Linda(Nicole Theno). His band mates Sammy (Jeff Adams) and George (Nikcoma Mahkewa) are his best friends as well. He meets a fellow hopeless romantic in Julia Sullivan (Vanessa Harper) who is herself has been dating her boyfriend Glen Gulia(Bradley J. Thomas) for some time and wants desperately to be married. She backed up by her cousin Holly (Jessica Knetch) and her Mom Angie (Betty Welch) to marry him. Then when Robbie's girl turns out to not be the right one, the crushed wannabe rocker has to be coaxed back into life by the help of Julia and his friends…in the all the feelings and longings the two become close and then true love blooms when they both realize that they are meant be together.
This production has an amazing sprite…the kind you don't normally find these days. The cast of colorful characters, wonderful musical numbers and fun dances make this a strong show, though not without problems from time to time.
Playing the role of Robbie, Brian Shortess indeed has some inspired moments and has some great movement and dancing in numbers. While Robbie is the glue that holds the pieces of the story together, he is also the engine that moves scenes along. I found that at times I really saw that happening but at certain times he had pitch problems though that I found hard to not be taken out of the moment with. There was a certain feeling of disconnect from the heart of a character that could be viewed as likeable and caring in a few scenes. I am in no way saying that he did a bad job but I would have liked to have felt more from him, and his connection to other characters on stage. Though he did have stellar moments with "Somebody Kill Me" and with the tune "If I told you" a second act duet with Julia that did bring a tear to my eye. I have seen his work before and I do enjoy it… just didn't feel the kind of love and warmth one normally does from the character. But he does hold it together for the rest of the ensemble cast and ends up shining when he needs to. It is a work horse role and I believe that he does a good if sometimes unbalanced job. I do have to commend him though because of the range and amount of time on stage he has, he keeps going… he makes dose make a very good center for the others to revolve around.
Vanessa Harper as Julia on the other hand was so amazing I just about had a heart attack. She is instantly likable as Julia. With a stand out, clear as a bell voice. You instantly see the Barrymore-ish quality to her but there is something else she brings to the role. She has a classic grace on stage, even through the demeanor of someone who gets trampled by her overbearing fiancé Glen. Her performance is subtle yet heartfelt and genuine, you are drawn into her with both care and love that doesn't end until she finally gets the right guy in the end. Her first song "Someday" is an ode to girls everywhere that hope one day that their prince will come. Her stirring "Dumpster" song is both funny and loving and is a nice change to see a song that could be over done on shtick to have found that balance. But the real moment this young lady shines is in the second act, on a platform in a wedding dress…singing something that makes you want to make Robbie and Julia fall in love right there! I have seen this young woman perform in several shows…this is a star turn if I have ever seen one… I hope this leads to huge things for her because she is an untapped resource in our little community and people better take notice, there is a new leading lady in town.
Jeff Adams plays Sammy, one third of Robbie's band and best friend. This man was so fun to watch… every time he came on stage you just wanted to laugh. The "Hair" he had was classic 80's and he had some of the best one liners in the show. His duet with Holly is sweet and the song "Single"…an ode to being an 80's man is a crowd pleaser. He comes on like a loveable lummox and gives heart to a lot of the show even without meaning to. Though I would say he lacked a certain something while dancing, for some reason it worked for his character.I had a chance to see him in Little Shop and this rivals that in the fun factor in a very different way. Very strong performance.
Jessica Knecht as Holly has some strong moments in the show and wonderful dance moments. Playing the "sexy" on stage in 80's attire can be difficult but she pulls it off in stride. I would say though that some of her singing had some pitch problems, but other than that her character was funny, fun and exciting to watch. Her song "Right in front of your Eyes" is both sweet and funny and her ending act "Saturday Night" is a show stopper…flash dance would be proud! She channels the Madonna "Material Girl" to a tee and her Jersey accent is comical yet somehow works with her character. Her personality is bubbly entertaining and she milks laughs out of most of her lines. Her scene work with Julia in act two makes you feel a real connection there with both of them that really creates a bond for the audience… which is can be hard to convey but works with both of them. I hope to see more from this young lady as time goes on…wonderful work.
Bradley J. Thomas as the arrogant fiancé Glen Gulia is like a force of nature on stage. He brings a depth to what would be the heavy in the show and usually a very forgettable character. Both dislikeable yet charming he rides a very fine line. He is crisp, sharp and on. You want to hate him but you can't. I have seen this performer in several shows here in Kansas City and each one he amazes me more and more. He has an amazing voice, great comic timing and can actually dance. His playing off of Robbie makes those scenes come to life and his scenes with Julia are the tightest in the show. He has one big musical number that starts out the second act "All About The Green" that is quite possibly the scene stealer of the show, it flows smooth, all of the performers seem into it and it blows the doors off of coming from intermission. Every moment he is on stage he takes it, and makes it his own. This is a performance and actor not to be missed, a huge part of what makes the show so fun is his work in it… Scene stealing performance.
Tracy Mcclung as Rosie is sweet and fun…you just want to give the poor old woman a hug cause she is just too cute for words…then she busts a move or uses a foul word and you realize she is more Betty White than June Clever and you love her all the more. Her song first act song, has both heart and humor and her final line will make you laugh hard. Her second act duet with George "Move that Thang" which replaces the rapping Granny scene from the film is as funny but you really see her get to break it down, her spin move is one of the best parts of the number. I did have issues hearing her at certain points in time though…I hope that was just mic problems. She is a fun addition to the cast and a talent.
Nikcoma Mahkewa as George is a stand out with his flamboyant work and beautiful voice. He has some funny lines, heart to his singing and some of the best costumes in the show. You find that when he is onstage you feel like the stage lights up. He has great presence, his song "George's Prayer is beautiful and funny…all be it short and as stated with Tracy "Move that Thang" is funny and a great break from the love songs that fill the second act.I have not seen his work before but I hope that he gets more work and soon, fine work form this young man and great make up too!
Nicole Theno as the ex fiancée Linda has some good moments but I found her singing to be a little pitchy. I have seen this character be better in other productions but also worse. She does make it her own and her song "A note to Robbie" has some very good moments. I found that her second act song spent way too long with her back to the audience and it was hard to understand her a lot of the time. Her acting work though was very strong and both her scenes with both Julia and Robbie work very well. I have only seen her in one other production and I look forward to watching her career as it goes along. Talented and someone who should be encouraged.
Betty Welch as Angie has some fine moments. I have always felt that the character of Angie could have been expanded on but what can you do. She sings well and has some great scene work with both Holly and Julia. In particular the wedding dress scene in the second act you really feel like there is a mother daughter moment in there. Fine work for a role that can be thankless. Oh and watch for both her and Tracy in scenes where they aren't playing the characters…they both dance quite well and look like they are having fun.
The ensemble had some stand outs as well…the Sideburns Girl was a particular favorite in the song "Casualty of love", the Bum in "Single", and a few of the Impersonators at the end of the show Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner and Mr. T. All in all it was a tight cast. There were some sound issues and some pitch problems in certain numbers and balance issues as well. At times some of the ensemble looked a little lost on stage, but I chalk that up to youth. I was impressed with the amount of high schoolers taking on certain roles and I commend everyone for making it feel like the show was vibrant.
I would say that this is the best show so far this year, even with any problems or bothers that I had with any performance, I would say that over all this is an amazing show. I think the RCCP should be proud of it as well as the cast and I hope that everyone in the KC area that wants to see a great piece of musical theatre should go see this great show!
read the review at KC Stage