The Wedding Singer

Stephen Lynch plays the hapless Robbie Hart in the 5th Ave's Broadway-bound musical.

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years. For the movies, 2005 represented the biggest year-to-year revenue drop since 1985. But on Broadway, it was the best-selling season since 1985. One of the reasons for Broadway's boom was the John Waters hit Hairspray, which wowed Seattle's famously applause-prone audience at the 5th Avenue Theatre prior to its King Kong stomp in New York.

And now, the same folks who brought you Hairspray are rehearsing another big, candy-colored, screen-to-stage period musical, The Wedding Singer—set in 1985. Crooning Comedy Central stand-up guy Stephen Lynch reprises the 1998 Adam Sandler movie role, a boy who sings for his supper at weddings but yearns for his own after getting jilted on his wedding day. "He loves to be in love," explains Lynch. In the Drew Barrymore role of the waitress of his dreams is Laura Bernati, who was so brilliant in Into the Woods that the Transylvanian critic John Simon interrupted his butchery of the rest of the cast to rave that only her performance "compels."

Eighteen days before the Seattle curtain rises (on Tuesday, Jan. 31), 76 days before the Broadway debut, the workers scurrying around the big black stacks of equipment and snaking cords of the creatively chaotic 5th Avenue evince a mood of giddy anticipation. Director John Rando (Urinetown) instructs the cast on the "God mike" as the pretty pink-and-turquoise set flies and redescends; a bouquet is "tossed" at the end of a long pole to a clutch of grabby female hands; a woman at one of the many computer screens arrayed around the room stands and mysteriously trills, "I am growing TES-ticles!"

First-time Broadway-bound star Lynch seems stoked but not scared. "Definitely, this is the biggest thing I've ever done—certainly bigger than my tour." As a singing comic, he's played the Moore and scores of colleges, but he says, "This is by far the most ornate theater I've ever seen."

The show's tunes mostly differ from those in the movie, which Lynch hasn't seen in years. "The heart of the story is the same, but they don't want an Adam Sandler imitation," he says. Offstage, he performs for me his Adam Sandler imitation, which features a nasal, Opera Man–worthy phrase that sounds like "Shabbado-ho!" It's a great impression—but how can he hope to top Sandler's performance? "It's a tough one, because it was a huge success. It was his biggest movie; it's got a real cult following. But this is so different—it's got new and original music, clever and really fun to sing." Lynch's favorite tune is "Come Out of the Dumpster." "After being left at the altar, my character's in a real dark place; and he ends up destroying this wedding, and the people at the wedding throw him into a Dumpster. Julia [Bernati] coaxes him out."

Tyro hoofer Lynch also puts his whooshing parachute pants through some fancy steps devised by choreographer Rob Ashford (Princesses, Thoroughly Modern Millie) and associate choreographer Joann Hunter. "He acts the step to learn it," says Ashford. "Trained dancers have to learn it as a dancer and then put the character on top. Steve's like Kevin Spacey [whom Ashford choreographed in Beyond the Sea]— acting the steps. I had no idea he'd be able to pick it up." He has to learn fast: Ashford added new steps just yesterday.

Though The Wedding Singer sends up the '80s, it's a reinvented '80s. "People think they want a historic Charleston in Millie, but they'd be bored stiff. You want a remembrance of the time. Here we give a flavor of the '80s—the Robot, the Dolphin, Roger Rabbit."

But by God, this show has authentic period flavor. "You want to know how '80s I am?" Ashford demands. "I was in Flashdance. In a gray unitard leaning against at pillar at the Ballet Academy."

Like Hairspray, The Wedding Singer is co-produced by New Line Cinema, which has a new Hairspray movie up its sleeve. But Lynch has no ambition to make a grand jeté from stage to screen. "I'm immersed fully into this world. This is it! This is the big time."

The Wedding Singer runs Tues., Jan. 31–Sun., Feb. 19, at the 5th Avenue Theatre, 206-628-0888, www.5thavenuetheatre.org.

 
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