On Thursday night, the Timber Lake Playhouse opened The Wedding Singer, the musical-comedy version of 1998's love-in-the-'80s movie hit starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. Imaginatively and exuberantly directed by Brad Lyons, it's a joyful take on stage material that (in a wonderful surprise) is pretty damned terrific to start with, and Thursday's production was so big-hearted, so funny, so brilliantly costumed, and so smashingly well-performed that I might as well get it out of the way and say that its technical presentation was so routinely clunky that it bordered on the infuriating.
It should go without saying that those who operate a show's sound and lighting effects aren't, by nature, granted the rehearsal time allotted to the cast, and that the first performance is generally when the majority of (public) technical gaffes will occur. Consequently, during The Wedding Singer's opening scenes, it was easy to glide past the shaky, wandering spotlight that was almost never in the right place at the right time, and the erratic functioning of the body mics; oftentimes, you could barely hear performers speak until two or three lines into their dialogue. And you could even forgive, if not forget, Thursday's major sound blunder, when the theatre's house music (Katrina & the Waves, I believe) began playing halfway into Meredith Jones' introductory song, and kept playing - and growing louder - for an entire minute more. (Jones, carrying on like a trouper, appeared only slightly distracted by the faux pas.)
Sadly, though, the body mics continued to be untrustworthy - in group scenes, especially, lines and lyrics were frequently lost - and the positioning of the spotlight was almost comically inept throughout; under-rehearsed is one thing, but it appeared as though the sound and light operators had never seen Timber Lake's show before Thursday night. The evening was fraught with the sorts of über-annoying technical glitches that could sink a lesser production, but The Wedding Singer, to its immense credit, is not a lesser production. It is, in truth, a fantastically entertaining, invigorating one - a buoyantly happy musical about depression - and the enthusiastic standing ovation it received felt richly deserved; the cast spent 140 minutes fighting the tech, and thankfully, the cast won.
Portraying Robbie Hart, the struggling, jilted-at-the-altar musician who falls hopelessly in love with engaged waitress Julia Sullivan (Jones), Kyle Szen was probably the night's biggest winner. In many respects, the Wedding Singer musical is a complete (albeit smart and clever) cartoon, with its constant barrage of period references, outfits, dances, and attitudes; it's like the entire pop-culture experience of the 1980s shrink-wrapped into a candy-colored stage package. (Which is what some of us will adore about it.) Yet Szen inhabits his titular role with such honest, earnest feeling that he transcends the show's gimmick - he's a generational icon with a soul - and his mania and misery, especially during Robbie's hysterically bile-spewing songs, are Sandler-inspired without being Sandler-obnoxious.
Szen is a total thrill to watch - and, given his bright, impassioned vocals, to listen to - and Jones makes for a splendid match. Her love-interest role doesn't allow for much variety, but Jones (whose speaking voice is sometimes uncannily reminiscent of Barrymore's) is effortlessly charming and truthful, and has moments of almost startling poignancy, such as when Julia prepares for her wedding with yuppie hotshot Glen Guglia (the spectacularly reptilian Carl Hendin) and practices her introduction as "Mrs. Robbie Hart" in the mirror.
The Wedding Singer's leads are a dream of a romantic pairing, and whirring amidst them are divine second bananas galore: that musical-comedy powerhouse Sainty Reid as Julia's gleefully slutty waitress pal; Jessica Dyer, fierce and fabulous as Robbie's even sluttier ex-girlfriend; the dryly hilarious Phillip Newman, delivering a sweetheart of a turn as a Boy George wannabe; Sarah Ruden, tackling the movie's famed rappin'-granny role with glorious wit and brio. And Thomas Stewart - so outstanding as Danny Zuko in Timber Lake's Grease - practically steals the production as Sammy, the addled guitarist with the Flock of Seagulls haircut. Twitchy to the point of apoplexy, Sammy is obviously hopped up on something, and Stewart is so endearing and riotous in the role that you wish you were hopped up on it, too.
With more than 40 - 40! - additional cast members, nearly all of whom look to be having the times of their lives, Timber Lake's latest continues to suggest that the theatre couldn't possibly have amassed a stronger ensemble for its 2009 season. Attacking choreographer/co-star James Beaudry's dance moves with dynamic energy, and exuding infectious delight in Leah Dueno's wondrously tacky costumes, they make even the show's lesser comic conceits sail (not that there are many of those), and whenever the performers are given a particularly inspired bit (and there are lots of those), they knock them out of the park. "I am a McRib, baby," insists Sammy to Reid's waitress. "I'm only available to you for a limited time!" So is The Wedding Singer, so take advantage while you can.
For tickets and information, call (815)244-2035 or visit TimberLakePlayhouse.org.