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A&E: Do you take this musical?

January 28, 2008

Let us now give two cheers to the good-enough musical.

The good-enough musical usually has some fun songs, some laughs and maybe a sweet moment or two. The good-enough musical demands very little of its audience. The good-enough musical may do OK on Broadway despite harsh words from the critics, but it has a longer life in regional theaters, and community productions.

The good-enough musical depends on a good-enough production to work.

When it's got one-and your expectations aren't too high-you can have a good enough time. Some recent examples: "Thoroughly Modern Millie," "Big," and "Legally Blonde." (No, all good-enough musicals aren't based on movies, it only seems that way sometimes).

"The Wedding Singer" (whose national tour visited Murat Centre Jan. 22-27), may well be the quintessential goodenough musical.

Filled with "I Love the '80s" references, enthusiastic aerobic choreography, memorable-if-simple supporting characters, and a serviceable score, "The Wedding Singer" won't be mistaken for a masterpiece. But it has enough spunky charm to get beyond some significant script and, in this case, casting problems, to make for an entertaining evening.

Remember the film? Wedding singer Robbie Hart gets ditched by his gal and despairs of love until he falls for engaged waitress Julia. Minor complications-and lots of 1980s hair-ensues. The stage version covers the same territory, although, as played by Merritt David Janes, Robbie is less like the movie's Adam Sandler and more like a grownup kid from TV's "Boy Meets World." An able singer and dancer, Janes clearly understands that none of this matters if we don't like the guy. And we do.

Unfortunately, Janes is forced to romance a cardboard cutout. As Julia, Erin Elizabeth Coors has a lovely voice and look, but she never breathes life into the thinly written character. I try not to hold actors' resumes against them, but I was not surprised to learn that Coors played the title role in "Barbie Live! In Fairytopia."

There are other problems as well, particularly the contrived climactic scene in a Vegas wedding chapel. But the overall effect is enough to encourage future productions, even if you aren't inspired to run out and buy the CD.

Just as my expectations for "The Wedding Singer" were low, my expectations for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's "Rite of Spring" (Jan. 18-19) concert were high.

Not only would the ISO be focusing on two masterpieces (the other being Beethoven's "Pastoral"), but it would be joined by Dance Kaleidoscope and Royal Shakespeare Company vet Roger Rees (you may know him from "Cheers" and "Grey's Anatomy") to add some drama to the proceedings.

I'm happy to report that the production exceeded expectations. Rees' pre-"Pastoral" monologue was moving in and of itself. More important, it illuminated the musical performance that followed. After intermission, the boisterous re-creation of the "Rite's" Paris opening also gave that piece important context. With such lead-ins, the symphony expertly played to a very receptive, even joyful, house.

Bravos to director Karen Carpenter and maestro Mario Venzago for offering a twist on the traditional concert without ever trivializing the music.



This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.
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