How many high schools could pull off a show with no backstage, no orchestra space, and no way to get from stage left to stage right without going outside?
For a high school to achieve a quality musical in a less-than-perfect middle school auditorium is no small feat, but Pine-Richland did just that with "The Wedding Singer." Though Pine-Richland's senior high is undergoing construction, necessitating the move, the show did not suffer in the least. The leads sang professional-sounding vocals and the band played so well I had to double check in the program to see if the pit was students or professionals (it was students).
Based on the popular movie, "The Wedding Singer" brings the 80's to life with large hair, intense makeup, and costumes straight out of "Grease." It is evident that director Tim Marquette wanted to play the 80's theme as much as possible -- lights flash across the ceiling to give the impression of a dance floor and compensate for the minimal set on a smaller stage.
The show focuses on Robbie Hart, a wedding singer who gets left at the alter, and Julia Sullivan, a waitress who hopes to marry her rich-and-handsome-but-secretly-cheating boyfriend, Glen. Though the plot is at times cheesy, this is ultimately a feel-good musical with pop music that includes more keytar than any musical I've ever heard. That the students who play the members of the wedding band each play the instrument designated to their character is an added bonus, demonstrating talent and making the plot all the more believable.
Also unique is the orchestra, which plays directly from the stage like a wedding band. I found this a creative solution to no pit space. Equally impressive is that the band does not drown the voices of the characters, though they are at times no more than five feet away.
Abby Dionise, who plays Julia, has a standout voice that blends tremendously with Jeff Burgess', who plays Robbie. However, the pair are not the only cast members who can sing: Raychel Shipley nearly steals the show in multiple numbers, most notably "Right in front of your eyes," in which she proclaims her love for the man she previously begged to leave her alone. The constant theme of the show that "love will always find you," is clich?? but leaves audience members with a warm and fuzzy feeling that is surprisingly nice.
Likewise, all soloists in the show were strong and confident, which can be credited to Gene Kelly Award winning director Tim Marquette. The show kept a fast pace and flowed flawlessly, showing the students' exceptional direction.
The one small downside of the show was the ensemble members, who were in character but randomly off-beat in certain numbers. High energy songs meant to be loud like "It's Your Wedding Day (Finale)" looked vibrant but sounded drab.
Vivacious throughout was Andrew Brevik, who had the daunting task of playing George, a member of the wedding band who is flamboyantly gay. As if he were born to play the part, Brevik sings notes most girls cannot reach and provides the audience with endless comic relief. In "George's Prayer", Brevik impressively shows his falsetto voice as Hebrew words blast through the air, receiving laughs from those who connect the dots between the Hebrew song and the band's bar mitzvah gig.
Though the show is relatively simplistic, Pine-Richland does all that it can to add witty bits, usually related to the 80's style. Shipley arches over a chair as water falls from the sky, drowning her in an impersonation of the famous Flashdance "Water Chair Dance" at the end of the Act I Finale, "Saturday Night in the City."
The set is simple but well done. It consists of a stage, individual walls that roll off and on and a movable door which doubles as the entrance to Julia's bedroom and Robbie's Grandma's house. I don't mind reusing the same door, but that posters of boys then decorate the front of the Grandma's house makes this slightly unconvincing. On the other hand, Robbie's bed cleverly pulls out, utilizing the limited space. I congratulate whoever built the set, for it could not have been easy to make scenery for such a small stage and have nowhere to house the moving pieces that weren't onstage. Kudos goes to the stage crew.
Overall, "The Wedding Singer" is a show where everyone leaves with a smile. With catchy pop tunes and leads who can really sing, it would be difficult not to have a positive experience.
I overheard a mother in the bathroom say, "It's a shame the kids can't do the dancing they normally do because of the stage." I disagree. Pine-Richland put on a grand show in a not-so-grand theatre. and for that I say bravo.
The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools. Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson (email@example.com), a long-time Kelly Awards judge.
First Published April 18, 2012 2:00 PM