It’s hard to be critical of a show like The Wedding Singer. Packed with best-forgotten fashions, nostalgia-tinged jokes and catchy songs, it demands nothing beyond your immediate attention and, like the movie it is based on, has no pretension to Great Art.
As undemanding musical distraction, there’s plenty on hand to like. Jon Robyns brings enormous charm to his role as titular entertainer, Robbie Hart, and he has great chemistry with Cassie Compton’s sweet romantic dreamer Julia.
Francis O’Connor’s design gives the piece a ramped up 80s feel, and a talented ensemble perform the energetic numbers with verve (choreographed with flair by Nick Winston, who also directs). Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy’s book won’t win any prizes for subtlety, but then it isn’t trying to; the jokes come so thick and fast it doesn’t matter that some land better than others, and there are surprisingly sly nods to the limitations of adapting a stage show from a star-studded film.
Even taken on its own terms, however, the production isn’t without flaws. The first half is overlong and takes a while to gain momentum, bogged down by some lacklustre songs and humour that should have been left back in the 80s (it’s 2017, people: are we not done with jokes about getting off with ‘transsexuals’?). The show only really picks up when Robbie is dumped, the laughs start to kick in and Matthew Sklar’s songs gather some oomph.
And while Robbie has at least some character arc, Julia is thinly drawn even by the standards of a cheesy musical: there seems little more to her than good-natured perkiness and a desire to get married first to one man, then another.
As is often the way with such shows, the supporting characters have the most fun. Comedy veteran Ruth Madoc hams it up gamely, and Ray Quinn is splendidly slimy as Glen, Julia’s Wall Street boyfriend (there’s a nice dig at workplace sexism here, too, where a woman’s smart investment tip is passed over for a man’s dumb one). Stephanie Clift is pure Jersey as Julia’s best friend, who could have been lifted straight out of Working Girl, while Samuel Holmes and Ashley Emerson are good value as Robbie’s bandmates, and as Linda, his ex-fiancÃ©e, Tara Verloop gets a lot of comedy mileage from her rock chick persona.
The Wedding Singer is on until 2 September 2017 at the Theatre Royal Brighton. Click here for more details.