What they did for love

Posted on 17 Apr 2008 at 5:58pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones

Wedding Singer’ hits some sour notes; ‘Inferno’s’ supporting cast is hot

Sammy (Justin Jutras, left), and George (John Jacob Lee, right), play the mullet-headed and cross-dressing bandmates of the wedding singer (Merritt David Janes).



When Adam Sandler’s movie "The Wedding Singer" was released, it had a sweet sense of whimsy, gently but humorously mocking the Reagan era. It didn’t try to be anything more than cute, and it succeeded. A sleeper hit, it’s the film that really launched Sandler’s movie career.

You might expect the stage-musical adaptation, now running at Fair Park Music Hall, to be just as amiable, and in a way, it is. But the movie is now almost as old as the 1980s were when it hit theaters, meaning the stage production is rehashing 10-year-old jokes that were already a decade out of style when first written. Has the American musical really fallen that far?

Apparently so.

It’s pointless to hate this tour of "The Wedding Singer" — it isn’t memorable enough for you to get that worked up about it. The title character, Robbie (Merritt David Janes), gets dumped by his fiancé and promptly develops a crush on a Julia (Erin Elizabeth Coors), who is herself engaged to an arrogant jerk. After many false starts, they finally get together.

Because the romantic conclusion is easily foretold, a show like this can only surprise with great jokes, great songs or great performances. Strike three.

The main subjects of dated humor here are the Clapper, early cell phone batteries, "Flashdance," DeLoreans, "the Robot," junk bonds, New Coke, Imelda Marcos, the "Thriller" video, Tina Turner and of course the fashion disasters that we all thought were pretty cool at the time. Maybe, if we didn’t have "The Simpsons" making wittier jokes by poking fun at pop culture every week, these would be sufficient. Some do hit, but are recycled one-liners from a 10-year-old movie really the best allocation of your entertainment dollars?

The best songs in the show, ironically, were written by Adam Sandler and performed in the movie. Otherwise the score just chugs along.

To be fair, the leads aren’t bad, just lacking in energy. Much better are the supporting performances by Robbie’s bandmates. Justin Jutras is handsome and goofily endearing as mullet-headed bassist Sammy, and John Jacob Lee plays a lanky cross-dressing Boy George wannabe with tons of affection.

Who exactly is its target audience? It’s too crass for kids, too dated for 20-somethings. It must be meant as a nostalgia show for ageing Gen-Xers, only without the ABBA songs. Trust me: it could use some ABBA.

If you’re really craving nostalgia, looking back 700 years — or at least to your senior Western lit class. "Dante: Inferno" is MBS Productions’ surprisingly streamlined version of the classic poem about Dante (Nicholas Berkley) traveling with Virgil (Frances Munoz) through the depths of Hell, and what he sees there.

The show’s adapter, Alejandro de la Costa, hasn’t really turned the poem into a dramatic play; the structure of the language is largely intact. But the director, Mark-Brian Sonna, has transformed it into something fascinating. It’s less play than performance art, even a piece of modern dance: On a sparse set, six actors dressed in black work overtime to create all the people, places and things in Hell: leopards, a boat, a gateway, assorted animal and of course many, many tortured souls. They writhe and howl and contort themselves athletically. It’s a triumph of theatrical imagination.

The supporting cast does such rich work evoking the tortures of Hell, it’s a shame that the two leads don’t measure up at all. If Ivan Jones can, without a special costume, so thoroughly convince us he’s a four-legged creature, why can’t Berkley and Munoz even convince us they’re human?

It’s unfortunate how often they drag down the show. Berkley is too stolid — he sounds like a student reciting the poem in a class, not an actor trying to give life to a character. Whether witnessing a river of blood or being attacked by Cerberus, no horror ever registers on his face. He might as well be in a zombie film. Munoz’s heavy accent makes it difficult enough to understand what she’s saying; that she never made it through one stretch of dialogue without flubbing a line only made it more exasperating.

This being one of Sonna’s efforts, there is enough full frontal nudity mixed in that his loyal audience won’t be disappointed. In fact, this may be his most inventive direction yet.

"The Wedding Singer," Music Hall at Fair Park, 909 First Ave. Through April 27. Tuesdays– Saturdays at 8 p.m., weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $11–$71. 214-373-8000.

"Dante: Inferno," Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road. Through May 3. Wednesdays– Saturdays at 8 p.m. $16–$21. 214-828-0094.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2008.

Comments

comments

Powered by Facebook Comments