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A Fine Frolic: “The Wedding Singer” in Covina

Kyle Caldwell (center) is The Wedding Singer at Covina CPA, backed with style by Ricky Wagner and Ryan Jones

Kyle Caldwell (center) is The Wedding Singer at Covina CPA, backed with style by Ricky Wagner and Ryan Jones

If one is going to see one of those rather cliche, tap-dancing musicals from the 30s, one does not expect depth. The reason to go is the dancing, the music, the comedy and the romance. So, that being true, why not consider embracing a musical from the late 1990s based on a film celebrating the eccentricities of the early 1980s in the same vein? If this appeals to you, then head on over to the Covina Center for the Performing Arts and their cheerful, lighthearted, often silly rendition of Matthew Sklar, Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy’s “The Wedding Singer.”

The production, under the direction of Wendy Friedman, proves just as well crafted as the show itself proves silly. The story pays homage to the 1998 movie: Robbie is the lead singer/performer in a band which has become known throughout New Jersey for a great wedding song, and thus a favorite at receptions. That’s great until his fiancé leaves him and his bitterness begins to infect his work. At the same time, Julia, who waits on people at a reception hall, becomes engaged to a boyfriend focused on finance who considers his new fiancé more as a trophy than a love interest. Can Robbie and Julia save each other?

Kyle Caldwell makes a highly entertaining Robbie – just over-the-top enough to make his struggles comic and his joys delightfully silly. He sings well, and can play the guitar enough to be convincing as a locally popular musician. Ryan Jones, as the band’s stereotypically randy bassist, and particularly Ricky Wagner as a veritable Boy George look-alike make entertaining counterpoint to Robbie’s angst, and prove equally musical.

It's all about the romance for Robbie (Kyle Caldwell) and Julia (Susanna Vaughan)

It’s all about the romance for Robbie (Kyle Caldwell) and Julia (Susanna Vaughan)

Susanna Vaughan makes an appealingly mainstream sweet young thing, as Julia. Jackie Bianchi has an absolute blast as her dissolute cousin, and Jabriel Shelton gives Julia’s fiancé all the intensity and hubris one expects from a Wall Street up-and-comer. Also worthy of note are Susan E. Silver as various moms, and Christina Marie Harrell as Robbie’s dedicatedly romantic grandmother. In two brief, but memorable appearances, Taj Johnson rocks the house as Robbie’s self-focused ex-girl.

Still, this is a very silly show. Along with fine individual performances, what makes it all work is a solid ensemble of dancer/actors who create incidental character after character, and dance up a storm. Lindsay Martin’s lively and evocative choreography really comes alive in the hands of these performers, and music director Richard Seymour manages to balance the vocal talents of the entire company with the recorded soundtrack in such a way that one soon forgets one is listening to pre-fab music.

Despite one moment where the thing should look a bit more Vegas-like, Dillon Nelson’s facile set proves terrific at keeping the pacing flowing – a necessity in such an episodic tale. Costumer Mark Gamez has the era down, right to the period wedding veils. The look helps make the show a true success.

In short, don’t go for depth, but for the same kind of sheer fun one might find at a production of “42nd Street” go see “The Wedding Singer.” One note: there is the occasional scatological reference, so be cautious about young children. Other than that, it will prove a great way to have a good time in the theater without carrying any particular baggage away.

What: “The Wedding Singer” When: Through May 3, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays Where: Covina Center for the Performing Arts, 104 N. Citrus Ave. in Covina How Much: $20-$30 Info: (626) 331-8133, ext. 1 or http://www.covinacenter.com

Lighthearted Nostalgia: “Crazy for You” taps into Candlelight Pavilion

The grander than grand finale of "Crazy for You" [photo: Kirklyn Robinson]

The grander than grand finale of “Crazy for You” [photo: Kirklyn Robinson]

The American fascination with the original, silly American musical is never-ending. Sometimes it results in revivals of some of the early greats: “42nd Street” or “Anything Goes” among them. Sometimes it leads to satire, as newer shows like “The Drowsy Chaperone” underscore our nation’s passion for their often ridiculous characters and sometimes illogical story lines. And then there is “Crazy for You,” which found the balance by giving a new, though reminiscent plot line and then peppering the piece with the best of George and Ira Gershwin’s songs.

Now at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, “Crazy for You,” the lighthearted, comic little musical, makes a surprisingly satisfying splash on their tiny stage. There’s lots of tap dancing, plenty of tuneful moments (as one would expect from the Gershwins), many good hearted musical stereotypes, and some genuine laughs. It’s a fine, if not particularly mentally taxing way to spend an evening.

The story is basic, pre-war Broadway. Bobby Child loves to dance, but his mother wants him to settle into business and marry the wealthy and suitable Irene. After he auditions rather disastrously for Bela Zangler of the Zangler Follies, he falls in line with his mother’s dreams and heads out to serve foreclosure papers on a theater in an obscure desert town in Arizona. There he meets up with every possible western type, and a girl named Polly, and having taken on the guise of Zangler, in the best tradition of such pieces decides to gather folk and put on a show.

Of course, traditional tap numbers are essential

Of course, traditional tap numbers are essential

Chris Duir makes a fine Bobby, dancing well, singing with gusto, and also able to handle the required clowning with style. Most particularly, the mirror gag he performs with Bryan Overmyer’s Zangler takes real skill on both their parts, and earns its genuine laughs. Susanna Vaughan makes a cheery, corn fed Polly, and though the chemistry between her and Duir is not particularly strong, they charge their way through the musical with an individual vitality which makes up for it.

Among the sizable cast, Overmyer and Jenny Moon Shaw also have some fun moments as the traditional comic duo, whose brief appearance in the second act adds a layer to the comedic tone. Shaw also makes a most severe mother for the energetic Bobby, and Angela Calderon ends up almost a non sequitur as the suddenly sultry Irene. David M. Laffey sticks out even over the other silly western “types” as the large and somewhat dim Moose. Yet, one could go on and on, as the cast displays both singing and dancing talent in significant abundance.

Director Neil Dale keeps the pace flowing, while Dustin Ceithamer’s recreation of Susan Stroman’s choreography is adapted well to the much smaller space. So is the set (uncredited) which has been shrunken to fit the space without losing any of its essential elements. A bravo also goes to Mary Warde for wigs which – and you’d be surprised how unusual this is – do not look so cheap/fake as to distract from the show.

Again, “Crazy for You,” despite its comparative youth, has more in common with the popular musicals of the 30s than with anything recent. Thus it is lighthearted, airy, full of tap dancing feats and silly comedy. For a moment when all you want is entertainment, it should be very appealing. And, at Candlelight Pavilion, it comes with a lovely dinner as well.

What: “Crazy for You” When: Through April 27, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and for brunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd in Claremont How Much: $53-$68 general, $25 for children 12 and under, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1524 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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