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Saturday, March 18, 2023

‘The Wedding Singer’ is Pitch Perfect at Silhouette Stages

L to R: Seth Fallon as George, Xander Conte as Robbie Hart,
Henry Cyr as Sammy
When Jeremy Goldman, the President of the Board of Directors of Silhouette Stages, one of Howard County’s venerable community theatres, decided to step away from his over 30 years of performing on stage and tried his hand at directing, he could not have picked a better show in The Wedding Singer to make his directing debut. He also couldn’t have chosen a better cast and crew—all volunteers—to make it work. And did it ever!

At the helm, Mr. Goldman ably stitches all the moving parts into a cohesive, intricately staged, high-tempo tapestry of laughter and nostalgia. The talented cast is brimming with enthusiasm and energy, and under the precise choreography by Jeremy A. McShan, can dance up a storm.

Let me point out that the stage in the Slayton House Theater where this production takes place is rather compact and does not have the expanse of say, Radio City Music Hall. To choreograph the snappy numbers so adroitly in limited space is a tribute to Mr. McShan’s imagining of the dance steps and the abilities of the performers in the show led by dance captain Brandon Goldman to execute them.

With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, The Wedding Singer is based on the popular 1998 film of the same name that propelled Adam Sandler’s cinema career. The show garnered 5 Tony Award nominations in 2006 including Best Musical, Best Score and Best Choreography. I never saw the movie; I was wayyyy too young. However, I am delighted to have experienced the laugh-a-minute production at Silhouette Stages.

Even before the proverbial curtain rises, the sounds of the 1980’s are piped into the audience. The likes of Bon Jovi and other popular artists of the era signal that the setting is 1985 New Jersey, not far from Exit 16. Already it’s funny. And the never-ending, hilarious one-liners and goofy song lyrics keep the audience in stitches from soup to nuts.

From the opening number, “It’s Your Wedding Day” where the cast scampers up the aisles and onto the stage, the burst of energy never wanes.

Yes, there is plenty of nostalgia to go around and enough corn to blanket Iowa. A Back to the Future vibe permeates throughout with an appearance of a Delorean on the stage, the prediction that coffee could never ever cost $3, and a cellular phone that must be attached to a battery the size of a car’s are just a sample of what you can expect. And when the scene shifts to Las Vegas, you get to enjoy impersonators of Billy Idol, Mr. T, Imelda Marcos, Cyndi Lauper, Ronald Reagan and Tina Turner.

Costume Designer Deanna Cruz-Conner’s colorful period attire is on point and adds another dimension to the spectacle. Then there are those mullets! Wig designer Tommy Malik deserves co-star status for the spectacular job in adorning cast members with those Richard Marx do’s. (Tommy, I need to speak with you.)

The story centers on Robbie Hart (played exceptionally by Xander Conte), a rock star wannabe and now a famous wedding singer who was jilted at the altar by Linda (Megan Mostow Kaiser), a trashy woman who could not at the last moment bring herself to marry a wedding singer.

Crushed by this disappointment and despite the encouragement he receives from his bandmates Sammy (Henry Cyr) and George (Seth Fallon) as well as a waitress at one of the halls he performed Julia (Maddie Bohrer), Robbie flies off the handle at the next wedding gig and angers the guests with his self-pity and ruminations about love. He gets dumped again, but this time literally in a dumpster.

With more encouragement from Julia and his bandmates as well as his nutty Grandma Rosie (Debbie Mobley) he tries to bounce back but will only perform at Bar Mitzvahs now rather than exposing his fragile emotions at weddings. Along the way, he develops a connection with Julia and becomes attracted to her.

"...a cohesive, intricately staged, high-tempo tapestry of laughter and nostalgia.

The problem is she is dating and is ultimately engaged to Glen Gulia (Chris Riehl), a wealthy, pompous Wall Streeter. It doesn’t look like a comfortable match from the outset but regardless, Julia wants to be married and have the perfect wedding song performed at her nuptials. She does imagine being Julia Gulia, an odd name that is not lost on her.

Following a practice kiss with Robbie at the urging of Julia’s cousin and friend Holly (Bailey Wolf), sparks begin to fly. Realizing that Julia is going to marry Glen because of security and money, he tries to change his lot by getting a job at Glen’s Wall Street firm where the almighty dollar is worshipped at any cost.

An ill-timed visit by Linda at Robbie’s basement apartment in the house owned by Rosie, some communication missteps and further misunderstandings seem to set back Robbie’s quest for true love. The feelings between Julia and Robbie remain, however.

How Robbie and Julia navigate this dilemma forms the remainder of the plot and we’ll leave it there.

Though this is a community theatrical production, the direction, performances and staging are professional caliber.  In a demanding role and in a tour de force, Xander Conte brings an abundance of personality and talent in portraying the lead character Robbie. Likeable for sure, you can't help but root for Robbie. 

Mr. Conte sings, he dances, he impeccably delivers comedic lines, he acts, he performs physical comedy, he strums the guitar, and he possesses an inventory of facial expressions that is limitless.

Mr. Conte’s emotional rendition of “Somebody Kill Me” and duets with Ms. Bohrer in “Awesome,” “Come Out of the Dumpster” (not many songs with that title), “If I Told You” and “Grow Old With You” are particularly well done.

A group number in which Mr. Conte participates, “Casualty of Love” is among several songs with excellent choreography by the energetic cast and Ensemble. This number and the Act One finale “Saturday Night in the City” stand out. But others are quite good as well.

Maddie Bohrer does a fine job of conveying the likable and conflicted Julie. Possessing a sweet singing voice, she performs well in her solo “Someday” and the aforementioned duets with Mr. Conte.

Debbie Mobley as Robbie’s feisty grandmother Rosie should be apprehended for scene-stealing. She boasts that she had been with 8 or 9 men prior to marrying her (unseen) husband of nearly 50 years, and if adjusted to inflation that amounts to about 200 men in 1985.

Robbie lives in her basement and as a present for his wedding that was ultimately doomed, she bought him a new bed. However, with this bed, you put a quarter in the slot, and it vibrates as in the case of those beds of yesteryear with magic fingers. Judging how Robbie reacted when he tried it out, only the middle one worked.

Xander Conte as Robbie Hart, Maddie Bohrer as Julia

Towards the end of the show, the hilariously zany number “Move That Thang” in which Ms. Mobley performs with Seth Fallon as George and the Company is a bona fide showstopper.

Chris Riehl ably plays the role of Glen, the one who was to marry Julia. He trades in junk bonds at work and other illegal activities where making money at any cost is the goal. To that end, Mr. Riehl joins Mr. Conte and the Company in the high-tempo dance number “All About the Green.”

Glen has a wandering eye and lies and shows a violent streak to go with his full-of-himself demeanor. He is a polar opposite of Julia.

Robbie’s bandmate and good friend Sammy, played very well by Henry Cyr, is also a comical figure. His relationships with women aren’t the nicest but he counsels Robbie to help him recover from his depression following Robbie’s break-up with Linda.

He joins George (Seth Fallon) and Robbie in the enjoyable dance number, “Today You’re a Man” at the Bar Mitzvah where they performed and later in a duet with Bailey Wolf as Holly in “Right In Front Of Your Eyes.”

The other member of the band, George, played deliciously by Seth Fallon is a campy, flamboyant character. Sammy is oblivious to George’s sexual orientation, and that lack of awareness provides some good laughs. Mr. Fallon, as stated before, is part of the showstopper “Move That Thang.”

Ms. Wolf is excellent as the flirty, promiscuous Holly. She helps Julia realize that she has fallen for Robbie after trying to latch onto Robbie herself.  

Linda, who broke up with Robbie on the day were to marry and then returned later on to selfishly try to get back in Robbie’s life, is played well by Megan Mostow Kaiser. During that attempt, Ms. Kaiser demonstrates her powerful vocals in “Let Me Come Home.”

The remainder of the talented cast does justice to the production and includes Beth Cohen, Dean Davis, Nick Thompson, Johnny Dunkerly, Rowena Winkler, Patricia Anderson, Julia L. Williams and Erin Branigan. The Ensemble consists of Brandon Goldman, Patrick Gray, Devin Holsey and Geraden Ward.

Aside from the wonderful performances, the atmospherics are excellent. Set Designer Ryan Geiger and Scene Designer Jessie Krupkin plus the set construction and painting crew have done a masterful job in providing the colorful and functional sets. Large set pieces are used throughout that include the Delorean car, a bar, a dumpster, even bathroom stalls. Despite such bulky items, the scenes change with precision and efficiency that maintains the rapid tempo of the show.

Light Designer Thomas P. Gardner and Lighting Board Operator Erin Ardanuy bathe the stage in brilliant hues and change the intensity according to the scene.  

All the elements of Silhouette Stages’ The Wedding Singer blend beautifully under the direction of Jeremy Goldman, his team and the amazing performers. You’re taken back to the 1980’s with all its quirks and you will laugh throughout.  As they would say back then, it’s a bitchin’ show and one that should not be missed.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

The Wedding Singer plays on weekends through April 2 at the Slayton House Theatre, 10400 Cross Fox Ln, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, call 410-730-3987 visit online. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.

Photos: Stasia Steuart Photography

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