by Pamela Rosen
American High School in Fremont is pulling out all the stops with their high-energy production of The Wedding Singer, a charming, edgy love letter to the raucous days of the mid 1980s. Based on the Adam Sandler movie of the same name (and carrying over some of the same songs), the musical brings from the movie some of the same puerile humor for which Sandler is known, but it also brings something unexpected—a lot of heart.
Lelan Fernando, left Lance Fernando, center, and Shahil Patel, right,
rock out in The Wedding Singer at American High School
Photo credit:Morgan Grace Gutierrez
The Wedding Singer tells the story of Robbie Hart (wildly talented junior Lance Fernando), a wedding singer in a band with his two friends, Sammy and George. Robbie’s band is making a good living—and Robbie, too, is about to marry his own girlfriend, Linda (Isabelle Chua, who gives a gritty, eyebrow-raising performance). Everything quickly falls apart for Robby when Linda leaves him at the altar. Robby can’t bear to sing at weddings anymore, but a sweet waitress at the reception hall, Julia, (newcomer Julia Lyell) reaches out to him in friendship—and finds herself falling for Robby. But Julia already has a boyfriend in the form of Wall Street Yuppie Glen Gulia, and wealthy, cellphone-toting Glen promises all the material comforts the ‘80s produced—and Robby can’t compete.
Lance Fernando is a likeable Robbie, and his performance is top-notch. He’s polished, confident, and fearless onstage, and he plays the acoustic guitar well. If he doesn’t quite reach the comic depths of despair required to land him, literally, in the dumpster after breaking down at a wedding performance, that is a quibble. He carries the show quite ably. Lance’s older brother, AHS graduate Lelan Fernando, has a fine comic timing as Sammy, and Shahil Patel is hilarious as Boy George wannabe George. As a trio, the audience can’t get enough of them. As romantic waitress Julia (a role originated by Drew Barrymore), junior Julia Lyell does a good job, and manages to hold her own against the considerable combined theatrical power of the Fernando Brothers and Patel. That’s not an easy thing to do.
Other remarkable performances include Christina Chan as hip grandma Rosie, who can’t separate public from private information and can cause the whole audience to squirm in unison. Firebrand Chelsea Torrado makes jaws drop as Julia’s promiscuous friend Holly, who makes a play for Robbie in the second act, and Matthew Ho, in his first theatrical experience, is appropriately evil as aggressive, self-centered villain Glen Guglia.
Julia Lyell as Julia and Matthew Ho as Glen Gulia in The Wedding Singer
Photo Credit:Morgan Grace Gutierrez
The entire ensemble is surprisingly strong. The ensemble works together like a machine, all of them spewing energy, well-developed characterizations, dancing precision to spectacular choreography and difficult harmonies. Even in the few points when the show runs out of steam, the talented, disciplined cast easily overcomes these momentary script defects and comes back roaring.
Director Troy River was meticulous in his recreation of 1985 for the stage. Starting with a versatile, basic set of black panels cross-hatched with ‘80s teal and blue squares, the set moves us from a New Jersey reception hall to Robbie’s basement bedroom (the detail work in the bedroom is amazing) to various outdoor locations and even to Las Vegas. Every piece is classic ‘80s, down to the blanket on the bed and the posters on the walls.
River was also exceptionally brave in allowing this production to go up unedited for language, drug references, and sexual content. While many high schools feel they must clean up anything that might be controversial, River left the script of The Wedding Singer unaltered. While it may be jarring to see young teens spouting the F-word or strutting in skimpy costumes (at least onstage—it’s no worse than anything any of them would hear or say on a daily basis in real life) leaving it in kept the spirit of the original, and was necessary. I applaud the choice.
Adam Sandler intended The Wedding Singer to be a love letter to the decade in which he came of age, the 1980s, and the stage version retained that giddy style. The star-crossed, alcohol- and drug-fueled youth portrayed in the show would, today, be the age of the parents of the kids in this production. (Perhaps those parents are smirking quietly to themselves.) As such, many of the ‘80s references to jelly beans, New Coke, “blow,” laughing at the idea that someone would ever pay $3 for a cup of coffee, and 20-pound cellphone batteries are completely lost on the young audience.
If you weren’t born yet during the ‘80s, do a little reading this week and get to American High School in Fremont to see it. If you were there and remember (even if it’s a little foggy) you’ll have the time of your life.
The Wedding Singer continues this weekend at American High School’ s Theatre 70 April 25-27 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12 general admission, $10 students and seniors. Call (510) 796-1776 ext. 57702 for reservations and more information.