There are so many starmaking turns-and some wonderfully engaging and endearing antics-onstage at Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theater in the company's revival of The Wedding Singer, that you cannot help but become a fan of the show, even if you've never seen the movie that inspired the onstage musical comedy. Led by Josh Bernaski, in a role tailor made for his estimable talents, and Ashley Laverty, who delivers a performance that is winsome and lovely (and her infectious smile could brighten the darkest of days), director Tom Thayer's cast deliver a performance that will fairly leave you dancing your way out of the theater.
The story by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy is slight-a wedding singer, naturally, is heartbroken when his skanky whore of a girlfriend stands him up at the altar and he then falls in love with a waitress at the banquet hall where they both work, setting up the show's premise-and the songs, by Matthew Sklar and Beguelin, might sound like homogenized retreads of some of the 1980s tunes you surreptitiously hide from your hipster friends on your iPod, but there's something about the show that quite simply works!
Set in New Jersey in the salad days before the world came to know the Garden State primarily because of the televised adventures of Snooki, J-Woww and The Situation, The Wedding Singer is likely to enjoy bigger acclaim in regional theaters than it did in its brief Broadway run and the subsequent national tours, because it has charm to spare. The characters tend to be somewhat stereotypical, and they clearly aren't fully fleshed out in Beguelin and Herlihy's book (let's face it, that would probably suck the comedy out of our beloved "musical comedy," anyway), but they are nonetheless affectionately drawn.
Thayer's direction of the piece keeps his actors moving at a good pace, revealing the story's plotline in a way that works well for today's audiences who come to the theatre short attention spans intact. The choreography, credited to Thayer and Jessica Davidson, is quite possibly the best we've seen at The Roxy in many seasons, injecting some high-flying energy into the nostalgia-fueled trip down memory lane to 1986. Adam Kurtz's lighting and sound design even further sets the period feel for the piece-so much so that you might think you've had one too many drinks by show's end. And, as we all know, nothing says the mid-1980s better than feeling like you've indulged yourself too much.
Bernaski is ideally cast as the show's titular lead, Robbie Hart, the wedding singer with a big smile and even bigger heart. Bernaski invests in Robbie some much needed vulnerability that makes him far more believable than he is written. You never suspect for even the briefest of moments that Bernaski isn't fully committed to his character and he delivers a performance that leaves you wanting to see more from him-the Cher-esque wig notwithstanding.
As Julia, Ashley Laverty matches her onstage partner with a performance fairly dripping with sincerity and believability-thus their duets ("Awesome," the ridiculously titled "Come Out of the Dumpster," which is far sweeter than you could imagine, and "Grow Old With You") take on an unexpected tenderness and emotional appeal. Laverty's obvious chemistry with Bernaski keeps your attention drawn to them during the course of the plot's development.
The supporting cast is virtually overflowing with talent: Rob Rodems (as Robbie's bandmate Sammy, who has left his job at Orange Julius), Ryan Bowie (as the hair-whipping George, the effeminate doppelganger for Culture Club's frontman Boy George) and Regan Featherstone (playing Julia's prick of a fiancé, Glenn Gulia, and showing off why he defines the term "triple threat" in the process) are wonderful in their various roles, showing off their versatility with ease and infusing the show with their focused performances.