With 'Wedding Singer', Circle electrifies new stage

Bellie brilliant as director, choreographer, costumer

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By Doug Deuchler

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There isn't a lot of meat and bone in The Wedding Singer. But who cares? This lightweight, fizzy confection, which opens Circle Theatre's new season in its new space, is great fun. The musical is a lively boy-meets-girl spoof of the 1980s with lots of big hair and big shoulders, but no big issues. Nothing is ever very deep but that's not a criticism. The very lively production, directed with great warmth and vigor by Kevin Bellie, is a delightful evening of high-energy escapism.

Circle Theatre, the highly regarded Forest Park group that's now moved across Harlem Avenue to the old Village Players space in Oak Park, has mounted a fast-paced production showcasing numerous flashy dance numbers with knockout performances by an electric cast of 19.

As I'm not a fan of Adam Sandler, I avoided the 1998 movie The Wedding Singer. That material was retooled and adapted, with music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Chad Beguelin, into a fairly successful Broadway musical in 2006. The songs may seem derivative, but perhaps that's the point. We're dancing down Memory Lane with this good-natured, good times show. The opening number is particularly rousing, with its splash of color and spirited choreography by Bellie.

In New Jersey in 1985, Robbie (Eric Lindahl) is a singer with a wedding band and a would-be rock star who lives in his grandma's basement. Julia (Rachel Quinn), a waitress at the same reception hall, and Robbie are both engaged to the wrong people. In the title role, Lindahl has a winning vulnerability. He's also the life of the party. And Quinn is very sweet.

When Robbie's heartless, self-absorbed fiancee Linda (Britni Tozzi) dumps him at the altar because she thinks he'll never amount to anything, Julia tries to cheer him up.

Then, as Robbie helps Julie plan for her own wedding, they begin to fall for each other. Lindahl and Quinn glow in these roles.

Julia's engaged to the biggest jerk in New Jersey: wealthy, cocky Glen, a cheating Wall Street shark, played by Jim DeSelm.

Shawn Quinlan is fun as a Boy George wannabe, though the show doesn't give him a lot to do besides serving as a sight gag.

The supporting cast works hard, with everyone playing several roles, making the big cast seem even larger.

The band is always visible on stage, as they would be in a wedding hall. Carolyn Brady Riley, also musical director, is on keyboard, Chris Wysoglad plays bass, Brent Moore is on guitar, and Lindsay Williams plays the drums.

Both Robbie and Julia are warm, likable kids. When an inebriated best man makes vulgar remarks in his embarrassing wedding toast, Robbie hustles to smooth it over.

Holly, played by Kelli LaValle, is Julia's good-hearted friend. She's also a reception hall waitress, who has broken up with Robbie's best buddy Sammy, portrayed by Nathan Carroll.

Patti Roeder, who performed on this stage countless times over the years, is a hoot as Robbie's rappin', cussin' grandma. Roeder brings down the house when she tries to list her own premarital romantic partners. She buys Robbie a second-hand vibrating bed from a Motel 6 in Hackensack. When Robbie's dumped on his wedding day, the feisty old girl tries to console him in song:

"You'll find someone who loves you, sure as waves will find the shore. And when you're sad, remember that Linda is a skanky whore."

At times, especially in the second act, the wispy plot feels drawn out. But the musical numbers and dancing are so vigorous it never seems to matter. Bellie's inventive choreography incorporates moves from Thriller to Flashdance.

What Grease did for the '50s and Hairspray did for the '60s, The Wedding Singer does for the 1980s. The pop culture of 25 years ago is the backdrop for the romantic ups and downs of Robbie and Julia.

The cheesy fashion trends of the mid-'80s provide plenty of sight gags: mullets, lace bustiers, fingerless gloves, parachute pants, giant hairdos, shoulder pads, fringed boots, and Miami Vice jackets. Director/choreographer Bellie also functioned as costume designer. He certainly had his work cut out for him, as each character has multiple costume changes.

It's hilarious each time Glen whips out his gigantic cellphone, which looks as huge as a shoebox.

There are a lot of laughs about stuff like the coming of New Coke and Starbucks ("Nobody's ever gonna pay 3 bucks for a cup of coffee!"), but there's little wit.

The ideal audience member, perhaps, is from Generation X — those born after the Baby Boom. I chatted with actor John Roeder (whose wife, Patti, plays Grandma) during the intermission and we both decided maybe we Boomers were missing some of the references; so busy raising kids in the '80s, we were rather out of touch with pop culture for a while. But no matter: It's all exciting as this musical time machine takes us back to the Reagan period.

The celebrity impersonator-driven finale features such '80s iconic folks as Cyndi Lauper (Kristin Calvin), Imelda Marcos (Kendel Lester), Michael Jackson (Michael Mejia), Adam Ant (Tommy Thurston) and Patti LaBelle (Toni Lynice Fountain).

Everyone has a fun moment – Dennis Schnell as a priest and Fountain as mother of a groom.

The realistic brick banquet hall set, complete with pop star posters, was designed by Bob Knuth.

I'd like to say The Wedding Singer would be fun for the whole family. But if occasional four-letter words are troubling, it won't work for everybody.

My favorite aspect of this show is that everyone always looks like they're having so much fun. It's contagious.

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