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Saturday, February 11, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Theater Review

Eager-to-please new musical raids the '80s

Seattle Times theater critic

A naive New Jersey musician hopes to win the girl he loves by cashing in on the 1980s insider-trading action. On Wall Street, a mini-mob of yuppie traders in shark-gray suits greet him like a cult possessed. "Wanta be somebody?" they sing to the new acolyte. "It's all about the green!"

"All About the Green" opens Act 2 of the new musical "The Wedding Singer" with an inspired oomph. With its feverish line dances, insistent rock pulse and shrewd run-down of '80s values and trends ("Reaganomics, quid pro quo/G.O.P is SRO"), "All About the Green" is a delirious lampoon of greed-gone-amok.

The song is also a high point of "The Wedding Singer," a big, gaudy, eager-to-please but uneven new musical, now having its world premiere at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.

The much-anticipated, $10 million-plus tuner — slated to open on Broadway in April after a tryout here — has some winning musical segments, likable performers and a stream of '80s quips, gags, fads and foibles.

What the musical lacks is some showstopping star power. Also, the pop-culture-heavy script seems designed for those who know the difference between Bon Jovi and Van Halen, Pac-Man and Ferris Bueller.

At 2 ½ hours it toils vigorously but sometimes at cross-purposes, trying to mesh a sweetly goofy love story and a cruder comic grab bag.

On the title alone, "The Wedding Singer" will attract fans. But it's been developed by the producing team that set a higher bar for new pop musicals with the Tony Award-winning "Hairspray," which also started at the 5th Avenue. And "Wedding" hasn't yet met that standard.

Now playing

"The Wedding Singer" Tuesdays-Sundays through Feb. 19,

5th Avenue Theatre,

1308 Fifth Ave., Seattle; $19-$71 (206-292-ARTS, www.ticketmaster.com, www.5thavenue.org).

Based on the popular 1990s Adam Sandler movie of the same title, with a book co-written by Tim Herlihy (who also wrote the film's screenplay), "Wedding" sticks closer to its source. Robbie (the likable Stephen Lynch) is the good-natured Jersey wedding singer who befriends then falls for a disarmingly innocent waitress, Julia (played in great voice but rather blandly by Laura Benanti).

We know instantly they're made for each other, not the nastier types they've taken up with: Laura's boyfriend, Glen, a smugly despicable bond trader (a spot-on turn by Richard H. Blake), and Robbie's fickle fiancée, Linda (Felicia Finley).

To bulk up the slender tale, the musical (under John Rando's busy direction) beefs up the roles of Julia's Madonna-dress-alike friend, Holly (Amy Spanger), and Robbie's doofus pal, Sammy (funny Matthew Saldivar). The elderly Rosie, now recast as Robbie's grandma, is played by grand trouper Rita Gardner, whose charm almost overcomes the tired "horny old granny" shtick.

The original score, with lyrics by Chad Beguelin (who co-wrote the book with Herlihy) and music by Matthew Sklar, is heavy on electric guitars, synthesizers and '80s spoofery. It kicks off weakly, with a frenetic opener, "It's Your Wedding Day." And most of the ballads feel generic.

When the music and Rob Ashford's choreography rev up, though, there are real gems. In the hard-driving "Casualty of Love," Robbie leads a "geeks unite" rock-out at a wedding. "Single," a male tavern lament, recalls the smooth soul of the Commodores. And "Today You Are a Man" is a hilariously loopy bar mitzvah tune for Robbie's Boy George-wannabe bandmate (wonderful Kevin Cahoon).

A flesh-baring "Flash Dance"-style number for Finley's calisthenic Linda is a crowd-pleaser but one of the coarser strokes. More broadly appealing: the sweetly goofy, satirical touches, like a surreal scene in a Vegas wedding chapel full of celebrity impersonators and two endearingly zany tunes Sandler sang in the movie.

As for the '80s visual garnishes, they are all there — in the superb lighting scheme by Brian MacDevitt, Scott Pask's scenic design of suburban New Jersey skylines and garish wedding chapels, and the '80s-trendy costumes by Gregory Gale, who apparently has raided the basement closets of both Madonna and Lionel Ritchie.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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