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Theatre Review: Talented Students Overcome Clunky "Wedding Singer" Script

The Wedding Singer at Northern Kentucky University couldn’t ask for a more charming cast – but the talented cast could certainly wish for a better show.
 
If you missed the Adam Sandler movie from the Nineties, it’s about Robbie Hart (Noah Berry) who’s a very successful entertainer at wedding receptions – until his fiancée leaves him at the altar. Literally.
 
Robbie has a gig on the eve of his wedding and meets cute with waitress Julia (Kathryn Miller). Of course they’re meant for each other, but first they become buddies. Romance is thwarted because Julia 
 
manages to get herself engaged to her crooked (insider trading, junk bonds), cheating and generally creepy boyfriend Glen (Cody Dale) and Robbie is still an emotional wreck and behaving badly.
 
The clunky script is painful in its absurdity and the song list has to reach high to get to second-rate, just about all of them offering lyrics with the depth of drugstore greeting cards set to bubble gum pop tunes, happily forgotten within a minute of the final note.
 
What’s worth remembering is the way the students deliver. The lead and supporting players are so much better than their material and the entire cast sounds first-rate under the musical direction of 
 
Damon Stevens and looks terrific performing Tracey Bonner’s inventive, energetic choreography, both stand-out elements of the production. 
 
Michael Hatton directs, and if the show feels as if it’s dragging here and there, it’s probably the script, filled with groaner jokes and a few scenes the book writers would have been wiser re-writing. Hatton keeps the movie-into-musical moving cinematically (good work from student scenic designer Emily Graver) and most importantly keeps the emotions fresh and genuine.
 
It’s easy to root for Julia, although you kind of wish she’d get the heck out of New Jersey (represented here in the spirit of every reality TV show set in the Garden State, the ones that make you want to never so much as change planes in New Jersey.)
 
Miller nails sweetly optimistic (occasionally bitter-sweetly) in character as well as in her songs; Berry is a pleasure to watch as a sweet guy who’s a mess for most of the show. He follows the lunatic character arc with real conviction, terrifically funny when Robbie is supposed to be, with strong song and dance skills. We can all look forward to see what comes next when they graduate in spring.
 
There are plenty of spotlight musical moments for the supporting cast. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Robbie and Julia’s sidekicks. Freshman Xander Wells shows tremendous promise as Robbie’s wingman and band mate Sammy, who has a lot going on under a boorish exterior. 
 
There’s solid support, too, from Ellie Chancellor as Julia’s Jersey-to-the-core cousin Holly, Taylor Greatbatch as the gay buddy and the combo’s keyboardist, and Cody Dale in the thankless role of creepy Glen. Ensemble members whirl through a series of characters, to say nothing of the half-dozen who show up as celebrity impersonators in Vegas.
 
The Wedding Singer, through Nov. 2. Corbett Theatre, Fine Arts Center, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. Tickets: $14, seniors $11, students $8. 859-572-5464 and [email protected]
 
Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts