Park Playhouse’s The Wedding Singer a Youthful Love Song to Albany Audiences
Playhouse Stage Company has turned the Washington Park amphitheater into 1985 Ridgefield New Jersey with their current production of The Wedding Singer. With music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, this musical adaptation is based on the 1998 movie of the same name which starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore. In a nutshell, the story is about a wedding singer (Robbie), his failed relationship with his ex-fiancee, and his budding relationship with a catering hall waitress, Julia. The show is fun, predictable, and filled with music evocative of the era. The best-known number of the score is the now familiar show opener, “It’s Your Wedding Day”.
What makes this production a stand-out success is not the play, but rather the talent that inhabits the cast. All the performers are members of The Students of Playhouse Stage Academy… local youth, anywhere from high school to college age, who will blow your mind with their talent. Chuck Kraus, Managing Director of Park Playhouse Stage Company, directs and flawlessly leads this cast through its paces. The cast of just under 30 performers is backed by the outstanding professional band led by conductor and musical director, Playhouse vet Brandon Jones. Jones knows how to get the most musically from every performer on the stage. Choreographer Ashley Simone-Kirchner returns to quite successfully put the cast through its paces.
Outstanding in the cast is Aidan Halsey as Robbie, the wedding singer, who has incredible command of the stage, and is equally at home whether singing, dancing, playing the guitar, or acting. The Columbia High School senior has all of the makings of a future star, should he opt to pursue this line of work as a career path. The equally talented Emma Cornish as Julia complements Halsey with her beautiful voice and accomplished acting ability. JJ Razzano is Glen Guglia, Julia’s obnoxious overly self-impressed boyfriend who you will love to hate.
The principals are rounded out by Maeve Nielson, Logan Esposito, Josh Hoyt, and Catherine Fitzgerald who are all loaded with an embarrassment of stage presence, comic timing, vocal expertise, and dancing ability. It is Ava Papaleo, however, who grabs the spotlight whenever she is on the stage. Her vocal capabilities and dancing expertise will have Broadway clamoring for this young talent.
Let there be no doubt, without mentioning every performer by name, that there is no shortage of talent on this stage. Whether ensemble performers or principals, these young people are putting it all out there. They apparently did the entire finale opening night in the pouring rain and never missed a beat or a note. Saturday evening, they didn’t let a drizzle of rain throughout the first act dampen their spirits at all. They all clearly love what they are doing and it shines through.
Samuel Reilly’s scenic design and Alena Samoray’s lighting design successfully set the tone for the evening. If there are any flaws, and there are very few, they have to lie with the sound system, with mics still going in and out, or producing feedback that is disturbing. And the costumes by Gina Kowalski, while appropriate to the production, are ill-fitting, and most look as if they had been slept in. Easily rectified by ironing before a performance, these are small but distracting annoyances in an otherwise delightful evening.
The focus must and should be centered on the talent and ambition these young adults are exhibiting on the stage. Cheers to Producing Artistic Director Owen Smith and his team for putting together a program that allows the Capital Region youth the opportunity and ability to stretch their wings, explore their talents, and provide a venue to expose that talent to the greater Capital Region theater-going audience. That is clearly the magic of Park Playhouse.
It should be noted that The Wedding Singer contains strong language and adult themes and may not be appropriate for all ages. As always, while you can purchase seats, the amphitheater seating in the park is free and open to the public. The Wedding Singer plays in Washington Park through August 20. Performances are at 8 pm. For more information: www.playhousestage.org or call 518-434-0776.