NEW YORK – The 1980s: Wall Street greed; the mullet; Boy George and Culture Club; Mr. T on TV; and a little moonwalking on the dance floor.
All are a part of "The Wedding Singer," the aggressively eager new musical comedy that attempts to do for New Jersey in the '80s, what "Hairspray" did for Baltimore in the 1960s.
Brought to Broadway by the same producing team that gave us "Hairspray," the show, which opened Thursday at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre, is, unfortunately, more relentless than inspired.
All the ingredients, particularly a promising score by Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin, seem to be in place. So why doesn't "The Wedding Singer" deliver a bigger kick, transporting us to that electric if rarified world of musical-theater bliss?
For one thing, the musical seems to be over-enamored of its own concept — obsessively referencing the decade in which it is set when time might better be spent fleshing out the people on stage. If you don't know "Joanie Loves Chiachi" or the jellybean connection to Ronald Reagan, for example, you may feel a little left out of the party.
Based on the popular 1998 Adam Sandler film, "The Wedding Singer," which has a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, traces the hapless adventures of Robbie Hart, who makes a living entertaining at other people's nuptials in suburban New Jersey. His own love life is in the toilet or, more precisely, the Dumpster, after he gets stood up on his own wedding day.
That trash bin, in fact, is the setting for the show's most appealing number, "Come Out of the Dumpster," in which a young waitress, in love with our hero, pleads with Robbie to pick up the pieces and get on with his life. It's funny and sweet, a quiet moment — beautifully sung by Laura Benanti — in a show that too often seems afraid to let its emotions show or its forward motion slow down.
That naked propulsion, pushed by director John Rando, is there from the minute the curtain rises and a wedding celebration is in full swing. Choreographer Rob Ashford has a lot of fun with '80s dance styles and his hardworking chorus seems to be a perpetual-motion machine.
Which brings us to the musical's title character, portrayed by an amiable if not overwhelming Stephen Lynch. What "Hairspray" had going for it were two outrageously endearing lead characters — a zaftig mother-and-daughter team played by the incomparable Harvey Fierstein and Marissa Jaret Winokur. Lynch, despite a pleasant singing voice, doesn't have their oversized stage presence.
More interesting in "The Wedding Singer" are its supporting players, particularly the show's two women of loose morals. Let's face it. Bad girls have more fun — and so does the audience when these ladies are played by the likes of Amy Spanger, a would-be Madonna (only with a sense of humor), and Felicia Finley, as Robbie's crude ex-fiancee.
Spanger is a delight, and she sure can shake up the dance floor, most tellingly in one of Ashford's more inspired creations, done to a tune called "Saturday Night in the City." And Finley gives a hilarious performance of gymnastic proportions as she attempts to reignite a romantic flame with Robbie — on a vibrating bed, no less.
Rita Gardner, as Robbie's terminally hip and horny grandmother, is a pro and knows how to get laughs out of the most obvious, well-worn material. Positive impressions also are made by Kevin Cahoon, channeling Boy George; Matthew Saldivar, as Spanger's blue-collar boyfriend; and Richard H. Blake as Benanti's budding tycoon boyfriend.
Scott Pask's settings are often witty, most tellingly a revolving rooftop restaurant with views of a water tower in beautiful downtown Newark. And Gregory Gale's costumes capture the awfulness of what passed for the height of fashion 25 years ago.
For a simple boy-meets-girl story, "The Wedding Singer" has a convoluted plot, and, it takes Robbie and that waitress a full two acts to finally connect. By then, your affection for the '80s may be exhausted.