Not since the dawn of grunge has Seattle been so crawling with carpetbaggers from New York and L.A. slavering to cash in on the Next Big Seattle Thing. Only this time, they're flocking to The Wedding Singer (at the 5th Avenue Theatre through Sunday, Feb. 19; 206-628-0888, www.5thavenuetheatre.org), the follow-up to the Nirvana of Broadway musicals, Hairspray, also spawned at the 5th Avenue. Could The Wedding Singer be the equivalent of Pearl Jam, a second cash megacow?
Despite the predictable standing ovation that greeted Thursday's world premiere, the answer is, "No way." Harvey Fierstein's Edna Turnblad in Hairspray was not as fat as the chances that The Wedding Singer will comparably stomp Broadway when it opens there in April. In place of Harvey and Marissa Jaret Winokur as the big Turnblad girls, we get the wee homunculus Stephen Lynch straining to fill Adam Sandler's checkered shoes as Robbie the Wedding Singer. And as Julia, the waitress of his eventual dreams, we have Laura Benanti, a talented singer and winsome actor in fine voice, and the wrong role. Mostly, the role itself is all wrong, with none of the crucial dottiness and good-hearted bad-girl vibe of Drew Barrymore's film Julia.
What made Sandler great in this career-making part was the tension between his soulful, doleful puppy-love eyes and his embodiment of the anarchic SNL motto that founding father Michael O'Donoghue once spray painted on the office wall: "DANGER."
Stephen Lynch is danger-free. To hear him defang Sandler and Tim Herlihy's Cure-pastiche rant song "Somebody Kill Me" is like witnessing Pat Boone crooning and neutering a sexily transgressive Little Richard ditty. Boone was good in his way, and Lynch is in his thin way. But when he gets dumped by his Madonna wanna-be bride Linda (Felicia Finley) and then bitterly trashes the next wedding his band plays at, there's no angry subtext, hence no comedy in his downfall into a Dumpster.
Except for two Sandler/Herlihy film-version holdovers, the tunes are by Matthew Sklar with lyrics by Chad Beguelin. They achieve melodic sweetness at times, particularly in Robbie and Julia's melancholy, nicely staged moonlit duet "If I Told You" and the rousing title phrase in the ensemble piece "Saturday Night in the City," led by Julia's trampy best friend, Holly (Amy Spanger). But the style is shinily post-'90s, not remotely '80s, and nothing to match Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman's subversive wit and keen feel for '60s pastiche in Hairspray. Sklar and Beguelin iron all irony out of the '80s, and verge on the witless. When Julia coaxes Robbie out of despair in "Come Out of the Dumpster," it sounds like an inspirational number John Ashcroft would compose for a Focus on the Family rally.
The lesser roles shine brighter than the big ones. As Holly, the good time had by all, Spanger is fairly funny and borderline adorable. As the runaway bride and material girl, Finley gives her big number, "Let Me Come Home," a vigorous, panty-flashing workout. Matthew Saldivar is amusing as Holly's swinish swain and Robbie's mullet-coiffed meathead bandmate Sammy.
Rob Ashford's dance numbers are glossily professional, but a bit simplistic, perhaps because Lynch isn't a dancer. Scott Pask's scenic design is sprightly, with good little gags involving passing aircraft, prettily twinkling and atmospheric stars, and tackily spangly wedding-chapel decor. Though most of the '80s gags are rote and dead, kudos to lighting designer Brian MacDevitt for the Pong joke.
I'm not sure how much to blame director John Rando. He's a smooth mover. But it was easier to forgive the many bad technical screwups that plagued Hairspray's 5th Avenue world premiere than this show's cold, jeweled movement. It's a heartless putdown of '80s heartlessness. You can't root for Robbie and Julia, because they're cutout characters, the good-looking antidote to desire.
Granted, I panned I'm Not Rappaport at Seattle Rep and failed to stop its Broadway reign. But to me, when the wedding singer and his gal wind up in a Vegas chapel surrounded by celebrity impersonators they address as Fake Tina Turner, Fake Billy Idol, Fake Mr. T, Fake Imelda Marcos, and Fake Cyndi Lauper, I feel they're more faux than the more up-front fakes.
And tonight, I'm renting a real movie: The Wedding Singer with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.