Vow Factor: You'll chuckle, you'll wince at The Wedding Singer

It's hard not to like a musical in which one of the key duets is sung while the shamefaced leading man is hiding in a Dumpster. "Come Out of the Dumpster" might not go down in theater lore as a sweeping romantic duet on the order of Show Boat's "You Are Love" or even Carousel's "If I Loved You." But the number dramatizes a situation we haven't seen before. It's quirky and fresh. Which is surprising when you consider that The Wedding Singer is rooted in the formulaic.

The Wedding Singer is based on the 1998 Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore romantic comedy of the same name. Sandler doesn't make movies because he yearns to tell stories; he makes movies to target the wallets of a certain age group. The show's creators have tried hard to camouflage the story's innate thinness by substituting fury and drive. It's a daunting challenge in the cavernous Fox Theatre to decipher lyrics of unfamiliar songs that are being shouted at fever pitch. But every so often the story goes quiet, and characters look each other in the eyes and sing. Not only can we hear all the words, but our hero and heroine become rather endearing.

The story plays out in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan, in 1985. Robbie Hart is "a born romantic" who makes ends meet by singing at — you guessed it — weddings. Although it's never explained why a born romantic would be engaged to a slut from Hell, that's one of the plot points you just have to accept. When Robbie gets dumped, the idyllic and perky Julia is waiting in the wings. Fortunately, Julia is engaged, too. (If she weren't, we'd have no show.) Just as predictably, her intended is a lout. But of course everything about The Wedding Singer is fairly predictable except for its refreshing lack of pretension. It doesn't presume to be more than it is — which is, despite a few off-color words along the way, mostly innocuous fun.

Details

The Wedding Singer
Through March 23 at the Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand Boulevard.
Tickets are $22 to $60.
Call 314-534-1678 or visit www.fabulousfox.com.

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Sporadically it's even more than fun, as when songwriters Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin try to capture the materialistic 1980s. The Act Two opener, "All About the Green," would work well in a musical version of Oliver Stone's 1987 melodrama Wall Street; this is Michael Douglas' "greed is good" mantra cleverly put to song. Another number, "Single," is a lusty paean to the sheer dumbness of virility. On the other hand, some of the subplots are clearly padding. And again, because The Wedding Singer's virtues are so modest, here is yet another musical that surely would be more persuasive in a smaller venue.

The mostly young ensemble is full of energy. Merritt David Janes appears to have been cast because of his similarity to Sandler. Happily, he also exudes the same innocent bluff that worked for Richard Dreyfuss in American Graffiti. Erin Elizabeth Coors is properly wholesome as the ultimate ingénue; as an audacious sexpot, Sarah Peak is using this tour to showcase her confident way with a song. She's learning fast.

It would be easy to knock The Wedding Singer, to say that it's not a powerhouse smasheroo on the order of Wicked or The Producers or Spam­alot. And indeed, if you go in expecting a megahit, you're sure to be disappointed. But if you arrive without expectations, these Jersey boys and girls might prove genial enough companions to tide you over until the real Jersey Boys arrives in town next month.

 
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