How does she do it, pop-singer Cyndi Lauper, that is? Can this be a first, to make one’s Broadway debut simultaneously in two different shows? Lauper, who is currently wallowing in the morbidity of “The Threepenny Opera” over at Studio 54 can also be seen joining the soon-to-be-wed kids in the finale of “The Wedding Singer” on the stage of the Al Hirschfeld Theater.
Despite the magic of the stage and the artistry of makeup and costuming, it is safe to presume that the real Lauper is much too busy inhabiting the role of prostitute Jenny to yank off her woolly white wig and run nine blocks south just for a walk-on, or for the prospect of a free canape. Rest easy, as the Lauper we see sharing the stage for a fleeting moment with “Wedding” stars Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti is an imposter.
We are not really fooled either by the other faux celebrities (Imelda Marcos, Tina Turner, Mr. T., Billy Idol, and Ronald Reagan) who collectively make a fleeting appearance at the glitzy Las Vegas wedding chapel where the wedding singer cum rock star wannabe Robbie Hart (Lynch) and caterer-waitress Julia (Benanti) reach their romantic epiphany. The real question is less whether we are fooled, but whether we are captivated by Lynch and Benanti, who are playing the roles originated by Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore in the 1998 hit teen film. Despite their very different approach to roles that don’t particularly beg for too much interpretive depth, the answer is yes. Comedian Lynch, who is also making his Broadway debut, and Benanti, whose loveliness and talent have adorned the revivals of “The Sound of Music,” “Nine” and “Into the Woods,” bring comedic esprit, excellent voices, and charm to this breezily inane show that makes no apologies for its retro-fied faux-ness.
Under the direction of John Rando (“Urinetown,” etc.), there’s no mistaking that this show wants to send up the tacky fashion modes and crass social behavior of the 1980s in a manner that proved so waywardly winning in the current 1960s-inspired musical hit “Hairspray.” Kudos to designer Scott Pask’s settings, Gregory Gale’s costumes, and David Brian Brown’s hair design, which help Rando achieve his aim with their garish period-lampooning evocations.
Rob Ashford’s energetic choreography can certainly be lauded for distilling all the moves that made the ’80s so easy to forget. If the references that define “The Wedding Singer” are not in the same league with the more wacko socio-political oeuvre of “Hairspray,” it stays safely ensconced within it own less demanding world. But that doesn’t preclude a reasonably good time to be had by those who have already seen the rather endearing film and those inclined to see to what degree composer Matthew Sklar, book writers Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, and lyricist Chad Beguelin have enhanced a film that has evidently assumed a small but secure niche in our culture.
The plot in brief: When New Jersey wedding singer Robbie is jilted on his own wedding day by his trashy fiancee Linda (Felicia Finley), he goes into a deep funk (“Somebody Kill Me.”) but is unwittingly drawn to a compassionate Julia — notwithstanding the fact that she is engaged to bad guy Glen Guglia (Richard H. Blake), an unfaithful hot-shot Wall Street wheeler-dealer. Although the comely Blake has to sing and dance the amusingly cynical “All About the Green” in a gray business suit, he makes it a dazzler.
Body beautiful Finley comes the closest to stopping the show with her ferociously seductive contortions in “Let Me Come Home.” Characters with loose morals are known to add flavor to musical comedies and Amy Spangler adds plenty of it as Julia’s by-sex-propelled cousin Holly. Naturally, it takes most of the evening before Holly discovers that Sammy (Matthew Saldivar), the goof-off she has been ignoring, is the right boy for her. Their duet, “Caught By Surprise,” is a knockout.
The full comic potential of supporting characters is unfortunately not realized. Kevin Cahoon has to rely on his outre get-ups and his one take notice song, “George’s Prayer,” for attention, as the band’s gay keyboard player. And Rita Gardner, as a naughty granny, relies on a sight gag involving a double to get laughs. Cahoon and Gardner do however rap their rap around the audience-pleasing “Move That Thang.”
The score, which includes songs from the film, written by screenplay writers Adam Sandler and Tim Herlihy, is bright, infectious, and includes at least one song, “It’s Your Wedding Day,” that could become a staple. As for imposters, they have been known to do better than the real thing. Take a look and see for yourself.
I noticed that Larry Saltzman is listed among the four guitar players in the excellent orchestra, under the direction of James Sampliner. I’ll risk inappropriateness, by concluding that I think my cousin’s playing is exemplary. **
“The Wedding Singer,” Hirschfeld Theater, 302 W. 45th Street. $56.25 to $101.25. 212-239-6200.
The key: **** Don’t miss; *** You won’t feel cheated; ** Maybe you should have stayed home; * Don’t blame us.