"The Wedding Singer" goes for broke at The Theater Barn and comes up largely empty-handed

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NEW LEBANON, N.Y. >> Buried somewhere underneath the rubble on the Theater Barn stage these days is a sweet endearing musical about two very nice unlucky-in-love people — a waitress and a wedding singer — who fall in love and wind up together.

I know it's there because it actually surfaces three-quarters of the way through director-choreographer Ann Cooley's assault on "The Wedding Singer." It appears in the song "If I Told You," a haunting duet in which the show's two meant-to-be-togethers, waitress Julia Sullivan (Joanna Russell) and wedding singer Robbie Hart (Jared Sigler) ruminate, each in their own space, over missed opportunity. It's a touching, honest, affecting moment which, of course, sets us up for the mad dash toward forever that follows.

Actually, grace and authenticity do appear from the moment of Ms. Russell's first entrance early in the first act and remain with her whenever she is on stage which, I'm happy to say, is a lot. She sings beautifully, with expressive control; has a radiant, warm, captivating smile; and infuses her portrayal with intelligence, vulnerability, insight, ingenuousness and a wry sense of wit and observation (is there a "Funny Girl"-Fanny Brice in this actress' future?). Sandwiched as her Julia is between a fiance, Glen Guglia (Ricky Gee), who is a caddish wolf of Wall Street, and the man she truly loves, the wedding singer, you just have to question her taste in men, especially Robbie, whom Sigler, under director Ann Cooley's misdirection, turns into a complete schlub.

Based on the 1998 movie comedy that starred a genuinely sweet Adam Sandler as a well-intentioned abandoned guy who gives up on love, music and life only to find all three again, this stage adaptation features a tuneful, engaging score by Matthew Sklar, with lyrics to match by Chad Beguelin, that is given full measure by music director Matthew Russell and his ensemble, even if their sound is somewhat muffled by the curtain that masks their offstage position.

But where the film actually deals with full-blooded characters, Cooley is content to create cartoons — caricatures, flavored with a dash of Mel Brooks, that sit as poorly on this cast as the wigs so many of them are wearing.

The timing is off; the rhythm labored even when this bouncy, appealing score wants to fly.

Lizzie Porcari is on target as Julia's exuberantly libidinous and sarcastic best friend, Holly, a waitress who is having an on-again, off-again relationship with Sammy (Andrew Pace), a member of Robbie's band who daylights at an Orange Julius. As George, the keyboardist in the band, Joey Alan makes an excess of excess, although his singing voice finds a pleasant lyrical touch in the upper register, especially in his affecting "George's Prayer."

"The Wedding Singer" may be formulaic but it also is reassuring, like comfort food. It has a winning score, smart lyrics and, in the right hands, endearing leads. The show has a voice of its own that is worth hearing, especially on a hot August night in a summer in which the world has been a presence on Berkshires stages. Well, maybe next time.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "The Wedding Singer." Music by Matthew Sklar. Lyrics by Chad Beguelin. Book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, based upon the film written by Tim Herlihy. Directed and choreographed by Ann Cooley; musical direction, Matthew Russell

With (partial): Jared Sigler, Joanna Russell, Joey Alan, Andrew Pace, Lizzie Porcari, Ricky Gee, Meg Dooley, Kelley Barker, Amy Fiebke

Where: The Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, N.Y.

When: Closes Sept. 4. Evenings — Thursday through Saturday at 8. Matinees — Saturday at 4; Sunday at 2

Running time: 2 hours 24 minutes (including one intermission)

Tickets: $27, $25

How: 518-794-8989; in person at box office on site


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