Manchester Theatre Awards

> Independent informed reviews by the region’s most experienced critics

The Wedding Singer

Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy with music by Matthew Sklar
Dan Looney in association with Paulden Hall Productions, Jason Haigh-Ellery, Tom O'Connell Productions and Tim Lawson
The Opera House, Manchester
15 May 2017 to 20 May 2017

The 1980s were a period of rampant greed, revolting politicians and truly terrible music. Yet the mood for The Wedding Singer, which both celebrates and mocks the period, is one of joyful innocence.

Robbie Hart (Jon Robyns) is a true romantic - which makes him the perfect person to sing at weddings. He goes well beyond his job description, to ensure drunken best men do not spoil proceedings and that the happy couple really do have the best day of their lives. But when he is dumped at the altar Robbie loses his faith in the power of love, and his vocation, until he falls for waitress Julia (Cassie Compton) who, unfortunately, is engaged to slimy Glen (Ray Quinn).

The Wedding Singer thankfully avoids the lazy trend in recent musicals to treat the show as way of setting up a lengthy encore in which the cast basically perform as a tribute act. Such an approach is not required, as Matthew Sklar’s score works as an affectionate tribute to the music of the 1980s, with power chords, synthesisers and even a rap number.

Director and choreographer Nick Winston takes the same approach. His high-energy dance routines include unmistakable acknowledgments to the pop videos of the day, especially The Moonwalk and ‘Thriller’. Winston links the excesses of the 1980s to the larger-than-life approach of musicals. After all, if characters keep bursting into song, so it seems only right that they should make entrances thorough wedding cakes and walls. The cheeky approach continues with look-alike characters who are introduced with the prefix ‘Fake’ before their names and a clever body double who gives the impression that Ruth Madoc has gone cartwheeling across the stage.

Francis O’Connor’s set acts as a grim reminder of the period, with a billboard displaying advertisements for innovations such as mobile phones costing almost $1,000.

It helps immeasurably that the entire cast pull off the difficult triple threat of acting, dancing and singing. Ray Quinn relishes escaping his nice guy image, creating a nasty cocaine-sniffing baddy. Jon Robyns gives the eternal optimist Robbie Hart a hangdog attitude, as if he is coming close to realising life is not as rosy as he had hoped. Pint-sized Cassie Compton is a powerhouse vocalist and manages to make Julia lively and spirited but not irritating. There is a real spark between Robyns and Compton and, most importantly, they make you like the characters – you want them to get together.

It is hard to imagine that such a morally and artistically sterile decade as the 1980s could inspire a musical that is so charming and so much fun.  

Reviewer: David Cunningham