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The Tentacle


September 14, 2007

"The Wedding Singer"

Roy Meachum

"The Wedding Singer" opened Baltimore's theatre season Tuesday. The production made the drive from Frederick very worthwhile but for reasons I didn't expect. It's a very fine example of a genre that has established a firm place in modern "show biz." And more.

"Tommy" was the first. Created by The Who, who along with the show, came up with a label: Rock Opera. A version reached the Kennedy Center stage some 20 years ago, leaving me more than slightly confused. I heard interesting talk about the film version with musical star Ann-Margaret. But I was not moved to see it.

"Mamma Mia" probably made the greatest contribution in breaking the way for later examples; but the show's preening success slipped right by my head until a close friend asked if I could get tickets for a touring production setting up in Washington's National Theatre.

In this space and on Bob Miller's Friday morning WFMD extravaganza, I reviewed that "Mamma Mia," staged in Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre. At the curtain, I was less confused than with "Tommy," but still unclear about why I had enjoyed the evening so much.

The Baltimore-bred and Maryland-born "Hairspray" belonged to that category completely, but its success seemed fueled by a masterful flack campaign. My vision altered only slightly after seeing the truck-and-bus touring company on the same Hippodrome stage. But that happened only last fall. Because of all the super hot air, I was personally disappointed, but recognizing the hit's entertainment values I strongly endorsed the Maryland historical treasure to TheTentacle.Com readers and Bob's listeners.

In considering "The Wedding Singer," also at Baltimore's Hippodrome, without reservations, I want you to see this show. I've heard before such laugh-out-loud audience laughter, but not in a long time. Writer Tim Herlihy and Chad Beguelin concocted a story that hurdles along like a runaway train. Composer Matthew Sklar keeps the rafters rocking - literally. What a great ride.

Don't take my word, the show took Broadway's highest awards. Tony, Drama Desk, Drama League judges voted the musical as last year's best. You might have seen the movie - frankly I hope not - for this show needs flesh and blood human beings to really register.

The stars are standouts; Merritt David Janes and Erin Coors play very well together the production's version of star crossed lovers. And they have strong help. Every actor comes through and that's the highest praise I can give; they are big on timing, clarity and sexuality. Wow!

What makes this one stand out in my book is choreography. For comparison I have to go back to the impact delivered by "Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees." I witnessed Bob Fosse's brilliance from the get-go. I reviewed his "Pippin" at its first-ever public performance at the Kennedy Center. He was my man when it came to dancin' shoes.

Rob Ashford has generated a very similar explosion with his dances and movements. "The Wedding Singer's" Broadway debut was part of a string. Nobody could be better qualified to carry on that splendid spirit than Paul Stancato and Chris Bailey.

Mr. Stancato was Mr. Ashford's New York assistant and Mr. Bailey brings along his own award-winning credits as a choreographer. They'll have you moving, sitting down. My favorite numbers were a Wall Street spoof and a torrid bump and grind from the leading man's ex-girl friend. But throughout the evening the choreography fueled the production with very high energy.

"The Wedding Singer" is rock opera that simply won't quit. That's not the same as leaving town. Everybody will. "The Wedding Singer" vacates Baltimore's Hippodrome Theatre after the curtain goes down a week from Sunday. Don't be left with tears running down your cheeks for another missed "goodie" in your life. The wonderful show departs September 23.



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