REVIEW: THE WEDDING SINGER (The Edward Alleyn Theatre) ★★★★

img_7210THE WEDDING SINGER, the beloved 80s classic, hit the stage this past week in a run from Phoenix Players Amateur Dramatics Society. It’s 1985 and wedding singer Robbie Hart makes a living from serenading happy couples on the best day of their lives, that is until he’s jilted at the altar of his own wedding, and suddenly his passion for the day job disappears. However, he meets and falls for kind-hearted waitress Julia, and must find a way to express his new-found love before she gets married.

Despite having a change of director midway through production, the Phoenix Players’ performance showed no signs of under-rehearsal or misdirection, a credit to directors Billy Harvey and then Joanna Walker. The cast was energetic and vibrant, led by well-chosen leads and exploding to life in the charming Edward Alleyn Theatre.

There was nothing ‘amateur’ about particular members of this cast. Scott Topping commanded the stage as protagonist Robbie, displaying a multitude of skills throughout the performance including a flawless vocal range and a true affinity with comedic acting. Equally impressive was Gemma Chance as his love interest Julia, charming the audience with a beautifully mastered singing voice and an endearing take on the sweet-hearted character. Considering that the pair were on stage for nearly the entire duration of the play, they displayed unwavering energy and stamina, no easy feat in such a physically and vocally-demanding script.

There were several other standout performances, particularly from our protagonist Robbie’s bandmates, George (Tommy Wilkinson) and Sammy (Rob Pinchin). Wilkinson was the perfect blend of Boy George-meets-David Bowie, receiving unrelenting laughs from the audience and creating an extremely memorable and likeable character. Likewise, Pinchin was the perfect geezer, smooching in his hopeless manner after Julia’s friend and fellow waitress Holly (played by Lauren Walker), who also gave a confident and brilliantly comedic performance. There were several other notable performers, but all involved made up a truly enthusiastic troupe that really got the audience going.

A cast of this size (at least 30+) is a challenge to direct in a comparably small theatre, so I was impressed with the swift set-changes and organisation of the dance scenes. Of course, the trouble with large casts can sometimes be a lack of consistency between ability levels, and there were certain dance sequences that needed tighter refinement, however this occasional lack of polish was rather endearing. I found several of the sequences to be well-choreographed and inexplicably ‘fun’ to behold, such as the performances of ‘Saturday Night in the City’ and ‘It’s All About The Green’. The costume changes were numerous and well-coordinated in typical 80s style, which gave the performance an authentic throwback feel.

The Phoenix Players succeeded in filling the theatre with a genuine buzz of cheer and feel-good delight, not least because every single scene was extremely funny – I challenge someone to sit through Robbie’s scene where he’s curled up in a ball on the bed singing maniacally about his breakup from his fiancé without getting tears in their eyes and sore ribs; it was tragic yet brilliant.

Feel-good, heart-warming, smile-inducing…a high-quality performance that did not disappoint.

Reviewed by Laura Evans
Photo: Solfa Carlile