The opening of Summer Garden Theatre's outdoor season at City Dock is a uniquely Annapolis event, and last week's launch of the theater's 50th-anniversary season seemed especially celebratory, with a capacity audience under the stars.
The season opener is the 2006 musical "The Wedding Singer," with book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin.
Based on the 1998 film starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the musical is a celebration of the 1980s, a decade described by director Mark Briner as a "fun-filled, over-the-top era of excess."
This production fully delivers on all fronts. Briner's smartly skilled direction of an energetic cast is briskly paced and immensely entertaining. Notable set design by Andrew Mannion lends a cheerful mood — large panels of deep blue, bright green, raspberry, grape, kiwi and lavender are themselves interesting to contemplate before the show starts.
Mannion's set works extraordinarily well, providing instant change of scene by a pull-down Murphy bed that emerges from the wall and just as quickly folds back into it. For variety there are several locales where smartly paced action occurs, including a balcony that lends height to the space.
The plot follows that of the movie: singer Robbie Hart, a would-be rock star, has a steady career as main singer in the group Simply Wed, which plays wedding receptions at Touch of Class hall in New Jersey. Robbie has little ambition to leave his comfortable existence in his grandmother's basement.
He plans to marry Linda, but her uncertainty about Robbie's future causes his fiancee to leave him at the altar. His romantic dreams crushed, Robbie may yet be saved by reception hall waitress Julia Sullivan.
As Robbie, Jamie Austin Jacobs fills all the requirements of the role — including delivery of every song with welcome wit and appropriate tenderness. He also moves well and is a strong ensemble player. Jacobs conveys Robbie's growing attraction to Julia and his eventual disenchantment with Linda when the now ex-fiancee attempts to rekindle their flame.
In this production, two actresses are cast as Julia: Layne Seaman plays the role in weeks one and three and Hayley Briner in weeks two and four. In a recent performance, Broadneck High graduate Seaman was nearly perfect in the part, conveying Julia's sweetness and compassion, and her growing affection for Robbie. She also reflects Julia's doubts about becoming the bride of her over-ambitious junk bond selling boyfriend, Glen Guglia.
Seaman impresses vocally in the longing romantic solo "Someday" and later in her duet with Robbie, "If I Told You."
Playing Robbie's bandmates are Fred Fletcher-Jackson as Sammy, who is both a devoted friend of Robbie and a classless companion of Julia's friend, Holly; and Robbie Dinsmore as George, who delivers a fun Boy George takeoff.
As Holly, Ashley Gladden delivers a memorable performance, here portraying Julia's spunky friend who is eager to explore any waiting adventure. Aware of Sammy's shortcomings, she also lists his attributes in her delightful song "Right in Front of Your Eyes."
Relishing her role as the slatternly Linda, Hannah Thornhill is a standout dancer who clearly relishes her character's Madonna-inspired bridal garb — she sings "A Note from Linda" to her jilted groom while wearing a lingerie-like costume accented by white thigh-high boots. Thornhill later returns in an equally skimpy black costume to Robbie's bedroom to persuade him to resume their relationship, singing "Let Me Come Home." That leads to a funny moment that establishes her credentials as a comedian in addition to her star power as a singer and dancer.
Surprising audience members who know her as a fine singer of the classical repertoire in her years with the Annapolis Chorale, Phyllis Everette flaunts a liberated image as Robbie's adoring grandmother, Rosie. She's a woman who has lived lovingly and fully, and performs a fun 50th wedding anniversary song, "Move That Thang," complete with sexy gyrations.
The entire cast contributes to the show's overall success, as does off-stage crew, including Becca Vourvoulas, who contributes first-rate and imaginative choreography. Costume designer Lin Whetzel creates distinctive 1980s costumes that establish a happy mood, and music director and conductor Ken Kimble and his musicians deliver every song with finesse.