Bexhill Rocks

A wedding scene is the traditional finale to comedy theatre from Shakespeare to Gavin and Stacey.  All the cast can be gathered – two main protagonists as happy couple, along with dysfunctional family members, drunk best man, disappointed suitors and a well-wishing chorus – in an often sentimental reconciliation of the preceding drama. 

Chris Packham
PICTURE: Simon Newbury

In The Wedding Singer, originally a Hollywood film starring Adam Sandler, later turned into a Broadway musical, and last week performed with panache by the Bexhill Light Operatic and Dramatic Society (BLODS) at the Izzard Theatre of Bexhill College, these elements are all present but re-ordered, and repeated successively. The male lead Robbie Hall is the singer in a four-piece rock band ‘Simply Wed’ that plays regular gigs at local wedding receptions. In an early scene he himself is jilted at the altar by a fiancée who had aimed at getting a rock star for a husband and realised that Robbie wasn’t up to it. The rest of the plot revolves around his alternative romance with a local waitress, Julie: will she or won’t she dump Glen, the high-earning but duplicitous Wall Street trader she’s due to marry, and settle for the chunky, cheesy and charming songster instead? Of course she will.

The main action is set in Ridgefield, New Jersey during the 1980s – cue for terrible 80s clothing and hairstyles, jaunty but unmemorable pastiche 80s music, and variable East Coast accents. The climax takes place in a Las Vegas wedding parlour replete with celeb-impersonators including Madonna and Tina Turner. Robbie, having composed a winsome love song for Julia – “I Wanna Grow Old With You” – makes a five-hour flight to deliver it to her as she’s about to exchange vows with Glen. The show ends with yet another wedding back home as the right couple tie the knot.

PICTURE: Simon Newbury

Star of the BLODS production was Chris Packham as Robbie, who looked like he was impersonating a young James Corden but added an excellent singing voice. Other fine performances were given by Daisy Estall as Julia, by Damon Miller as Simply Wed guitarist Sammy and by his on-off girlfriend Holly played, with classy vocals, by Abby Doherty.

But stand-out plaudits are owed to director Lee Lyons and particularly choreographer Hollie Jane Saunters, who in several scenes deployed an ensemble cast of over 20 adults and several kids across the stage with military-grade precision as they peopled the successive wedding receptions (or, at one point, a bar mitzvah ceremony), singing, dancing, talking, laughing, drinking – the stuff people do when it’s someone else’s future life being determined. Minor characters got their opportunities to perform briefly in the spotlight, and the children offered their own dance cameos. As demonstrated by BLODS, The Wedding Singer is a perfect show to stage with an animated, variable-talented amateur cast who are prepared, as they obviously were, to put in a lot of rehearsal time.

A mention too for the literally unsung musicians, who played behind a screen throughout and curiously failed to take a visible bow even at the curtain call. Middle of the Road 80s rock doesn’t come at the top of many people’s music playlists, but they thumped it out regardless.

“We wanted to do something that was fun and really stood out from the more classic musicals”, said Lee afterwards. “I was especially pleased with the energy that the cast put into the production, I was blessed with a really talented ensemble that really took the direction and choreography on board.”

Future BLODS productions still in planning stage include a drama Five Lesbians Eating A Quiche (no, nor do I) and Shrek The Musical. The latter is booked for performances at the De La Warr Pavilion next August.

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