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Review: ‘The Wedding Singer’ at the Secret Theatre (NYC)

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One of the great bonuses about the immense theater scene in New York City is that if you happened to miss a popular Broadway show for whatever reason there’s a good chance that one of the city’s incredibly talented small theater groups will mount a production of it a few years later.  A perfect example of this is The Wedding Singer at The Secret Theatre in the Long Island City section of New York City. However, even if you saw the 2006 Broadway production of The Wedding Singer you’ll likely still want to check out this production because it’s not often that you ever see a cast – in whatever size theater – having this much fun together on stage.

The storyline is familiar to anyone who has seen the 1998 Adam Sandler comedy that the musical was based on: in 1985 wedding singer Robbie Hart overcomes hilarity and heartbreak as he falls in love with Julia, a cocktail waitress whose wedding he is supposed to sing at.  Smartly, the musical jettisoned the 1980s tunes on the movie’s soundtrack and instead went with original music in a 1980s style.  This allowed the musical to come from a more creative area than some of the slapped together “jukebox musicals” that failed on Broadway and were quickly forgotten. 

Starring in the titular wedding singer role is Barry DeBois, who has the exact everyman charm that a production of this musical needs in that role.  He’s a great performer and perhaps the only thing that works against him is that while Robbie is the lead it isn’t the musical’s flashiest role.  That distinction belongs to a number of other characters, including the hilariously effeminate George, portrayed with all the necessary energy by John Wacavage, who is obviously having a lot of fun on stage.  Robbie’s other bandmate, his dimwitted, trashy best friend Sammy, is probably the musical’s best role, particularly in the second act.  Luckily, the moment Michael Louis Bernardi enters with his sloppy mullet wig he’s fully committed to being as foolish and funny as the character ought to be.

Though it’s always hard to single out cast members in a production as fun as this, two in particular actually blew me away in addition to the male leads.  Kristin Piacentile, who plays Julia’s cousin Holly, is just so clearly into her fun role, particularly in two songs that she impressively sings lead on, “Saturday Night in the City” and “Right in Front of Your Eyes.”  However, the one performer who really tears the house down is Natalie DePuy, who plays Robbie’s girlfriend Linda.   Linda only has two songs in the musical (though DePuy thankfully is on stage at other times in various ensemble roles), but DePuy throws so much of herself into the two songs that she was rewarded with the wildest applause of the evening.  Honestly, on those two songs she is so overwhelmingly awesome (forgive me for using 1980s slang, but it seems appropriate in this case) I find it hard to believe she had any energy left over to sing and dance in her ensemble roles!

Oh, and naturally it is difficult to enjoy any production of The Wedding Singer without giving a lot of well-deserved credit to the actress who plays Rosie, Robbie’s young-at-heart grandmother.  Gael Schaefer, who plays the role in this production, could do it tomorrow night on Broadway without missing a step or seeming out-of-place.

Director Taryn Turney made the right choice in thinking that since the production couldn’t use extensive sets (either because of the budget or space limitations of the Secret Theatre itself), she would make the musical come alive through the cast’s enthusiastic choreography, which she also directed.  The “sets” themselves are projected on an immense screen, which might seem inadequate in a production that didn’t have as much talent to keep your eyes on as this one.  But with this production it’s easy to accept, and it does allow the production to play an entertaining montage of 1980s television commercials and video games as the musical comes out of intermission.

Naturally a musical can only be as good as its band, and the five-piece band – directed by keyboardist Eugenio Vargas – are spot-on with its 1980s rock sound. It’s unfortunate that the band is out of sight because of the way The Secret Theatre is laid out (the band is tucked away in a loft behind the audience), because the band really deserves a lot of recognition for giving the cast a wonderful base to build their performances on.

If you’d like to see an animated production of one of the better musicals from last decade, I’d recommend getting your tickets to The Wedding Singer soon.  That’s because I wouldn’t be surprised if a majority of the 75 seats at The Secret Theatre will be filled during each performance with or without you – and I’m sure you’ll probably want to be there.

The Wedding Singer runs Thursday through Sunday through August 24 at The Secret Theatre in the Long Island City section of Queens, New York City. For more information, visit The Secret Theatre’s website. Photo by Chasi Annexy.

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