Nostalgia will only carry you so far. The Wedding Singer, that 1998 rom-com starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, reveled in gel-scrunched hair and Billy Idol references but also had a surprising amount of charm and quirk. The musical, which followed in 2006, tried to recapture both sides and only somewhat succeeded.
Theatre Three's version is more shopworn, hiding behind Mylar streamers and horrendous wigs while desperately moonwalking for applause. It's an oddly cast production, with little chemistry between any of its sweethearts. Although there are some commendable performances, they often come from actors who seem to be existing in a different show altogether.
The heart should be Robbie the wedding singer (Cameron Cobb) and Julia the waitress (Katie Moyes Williams), who meet while working a gig in 1980s New Jersey on the eve of Robbie's wedding. A magic chord plays when they shake hands, but it's just Robbie's bandmate noodling with an instrument. The next day Robbie is left at the altar, and soon after Julia gets engaged to her greed-is-good boyfriend. Yet they can't stop mooning over each other, much as they deny it to family and friends.
While Williams looks sweet as pie and sings with equal sugar, there's nary a hint of humor in her portrayal. Cobb, sweaty from the get-go and consistently out of breath, struggles to make Robbie more than an overgrown man-child. We yearn to see the couple delight in their mutual weirdness, complimenting each other's eccentricities and drawn together despite the temptations that continually get thrown their way. Instead they might as well be, as they joke at one point to a department store saleswoman, brother and sister.
Jacob Lewis is another contender for sibling, as his Glen Guglia is neither smarmy nor swoon-worthy enough to make a real impression. What attracted Julia to him in the first place? It certainly wasn't his singing.
It's Julia's cousin Holly and Robbie's ex-fiance Linda, along with bandmates Sammy and George, who end up stealing the show. Snapping her gum with tough-girl swagger and looking like a slutty Teen Witch, Nikki Cloer is hoot as Holly. She used to date Sammy (Gregory Lush), and can't seem to quite escape his hypnotizing mullet which to Lush's great credit is not his only defining trait.
Samantha Padilla gets two showstopping songs as Linda, first when she's giving Robbie the kiss-off in her Madonna-inspired wedding dress and again when she's attempting to seduce him with hair metal. Both times she's a riot. Alex Heika is glammed up and prettier than anyone onstage as George, but his languid delivery of each punchline shows how painfully off the rest of the production's pacing really is.
An ensemble of seven further demonstrates the varying levels of commitment. While some are developing interesting side characters with each scene, others sit, dead-eyed and blank-faced, letting their wigs do the emoting for them. Even while performing Kelly McCain's often-out-of-control choreography, there's not much going on upstairs.
Bruce R. Coleman is the perpetrator behind those hair pieces, as well as the director leading this motley crew. He might be content enough to ride the '80s nostalgia wave in lieu of a cohesive show, but we shouldn't.
Theatre Three's production of The Wedding Singer runs through October 16.