The phrase “the show must go on” is a mantra often recited by those in the theater as a resolution to give the audience a spectacular show even when things have taken a turn for the worse behind the scenes.
For The Gateway’s current musical production, The Wedding Singer, the moment to prove their resolve came hours before opening night when the leading man, the wedding singer famously played by Adam Sandler, called in sick, and a member of the show’s ensemble stepped up to take the lead. I
t would take a miracle to pull off a halfway-decent production under the circumstances, and somehow The Gateway surpassed all expectations.
By the time this review is published, Douglas Goodhart will have likely resumed his role as Robbie the wedding singer and, given his track record in previous Gateway shows, is sure to give a splendid performance, but on opening night, the audience was treated to a spectacular, practically impromptu performance by Jose Contreras.
Tapping into his experience portraying Robbie once before, Contreras assumed the role at noon on Friday, January 27 and was performing for an audience by 8 p.m. His take on Robbie captures Sandler’s essence to a tee — from the inflection of his voice to his manic energy — without making the portrayal seem like a celebrity impression.
This is helped by the actor’s attention to the more sincere, emotion-driven moments, which hit just as well as the more frequent comedic scenes and songs.
Contreras’ chemistry with Sarah Ellis, who portrayed Julia, is a joy to watch, but truly Ellis shares a delightful rapport with whomever she shares the stage with. Her scenes with Katie Lamark as the firecracker Holly are a special treat, with Holly’s loud, larger-than-life personality playing well off Julia’s quieter, more grounded personality.
Julia’s demeanor is misleading though, for she, or rather Ellis, has quite possibly the strongest, most well-tuned singing voice of the whole cast.
The Wedding Singer musical — book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy with music by Matthew Skylar — is a largely faithful retelling of the classic Sandler film, and serves as a massive nostalgia trip for those who hold fond memories of the 1980s.
And the comedic setting is tuned to ’80s perfection, replete with 20-pound cell phones, over-the-top outfits, massive hair and maybe even a Billy Idol appearance (impersonated by Peyton Cassity).
Jokes and antics are plentiful throughout the show, and most of them are poised to get a laugh out of the audience. While most of the characters crack jokes, the dedicated comic relief is George, played here by Joseph Frederick Allen.
The flamboyant, over-the-top parody of Boy George doles out many of The Wedding Singer’s biggest laughs — his solo song “George’s Prayer” chief among them — and Allen’s cheeky delivery endears him to the audience, so much so that by act two, audience members instinctively begin applauding whenever he walks onstage.
Also receiving a massive reaction from the audience is rapping grandma Rosie, played to perfection by Janet Aldrich. She juggles two opposing grandmother archetypes in a way that few other than Betty White can do well — sweet and doting, but also unpredictable and occasionally crass. Like Allen’s George, Aldrich’s Rosie is a clear audience favorite.
There are so many funny characters in this musical — from Robbie’s wildcard ex-fiancée Linda (Kelly MacMillan) to Holly’s will-they-won’t-they ex Sammy (Hunter Brown) and even the crazy bar bum (Steven Gagliano filling in for Contreras) — that Bill Coyne’s intense bravado as Glen stands out starkly. He plays the role of ’80s rom-com villain to a tee.
In total, the musical features a whopping 23 songs, none of which feel like they were added arbitrarily. Songs like Holly and Sammy’s “Right in Front of Your Eyes” are there to reveal the inner feelings of characters; Glen and Robbie’s “It’s All About the Green” is one of the big dance numbers that shows off the choreography; and Rosie and George’s “Move That Thang” is there to be laugh-out-loud hilarious.
“Saturday Night in the City” is The Wedding Singer’s big act one finale, and wow is it a showstopper. It’s a catchy song paired with fast-paced, multi-level choreography and nostalgic ’80s fashion including looks reminiscent of Cyndi Lauper, Miami Vice and A Flock of Seagulls.
However, Robbie’s “Casualty of Love” is arguably the show’s best blend of all three song categories: character insight, choreography and comedy. The “mutants over at table nine” (Matthew Blum, Sarah Lindsey, Anthony DaSilva and Mikaela Rada) deserve a special shoutout for their fantastically freakish dance moves.
One genius design aspect of this production is that other than the intermission, there is zero dead air — no waiting in darkness as the black-clad crew shuffles set pieces around.
Utilizing multiple curtains at varying depths onstage, similar to Broadway’s Moulin Rouge, the cast is able to conclude a big scene on an intricate set, then close a curtain while a smaller scene with one or two characters continues at the front of the stage.
When the curtain opens back up, the ensemble is already bringing the next scene to life. It’s a boon to the show’s pacing, and just an impressive feat of stage production, so props to director/choreographer Keith Andrews and production stage manager James O. Hansen.
The Gateway’s first Broadway-esque musical to be produced in January is a smashing success; it’s just a shame the snowbirds will miss out. But if this is the level of spectacle The Gateway is bringing to a winter show, their summer lineup must be shaping up to be a masterclass of talent and production.
The Wedding Singer runs through February 26 at The Gateway Playhouse in Bellport. For tickets and more info, visit thegateway.org.