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Review: “Wedding Singer” celebrates all things ‘80s

Remember the ‘80s? Cell phones were big and bulky, CD players cost $900 and Starbucks was just a small coffeehouse in Seattle.

“The Wedding Singer,” a touring musical at the Gallo Center for the Arts, offers lots of opportunities to laugh at how things used to be and enjoy a sweet romantic story at the same time.

Based on the 1998 hit movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the 2006 Tony-nominated show centers on a singer and a waitress engaged to the wrong people. Created by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, the show features peppy synthesizer-driven original music by Matthew Sklar.

Director M. Seth Reines keeps the pace hopping and choreographer Amy Marie McCleary replicates some of the most famous dance moves from videos of the era, including “Thriller,” “Material Girl” and “Billie Jean.”

It’s an added treat that the leads in this production are played by appealing real-life married couple J. Michael and Jillian Zygo.

J. Michael Zygo, who plays singer Robbie, wouldn’t be hired on at “Saturday Night Live” but he does have a likable personality and a gift for physical humor. His over-dramatic fall after getting punched from a rival earned him applause at Friday’s opening night performance.

One of the funniest moments of the show is when he sings the anti-romantic song “Casualty of Love” at a wedding right after his fiancé ditches him at the altar. First he publicly criticizes the bride, then he picks on the wedding guests until the whole wedding party tosses him into some trash.

Jillian Zygo, who plays Julia, has her best humorous moments when she sings “Come Out of the Dumpster” to him right after that scene.

But it’s supporting actresses Jennifer Gottlieb and April Monte who have the most fun on stage.

Gottlieb is hilarious as Linda, who looks and acts like the scantily-dressed girls that used to star in old heavy metal videos. Monte, who plays Julia’s best friend Holly, unleashes her inner Madonna. When Monte was doused by water after a sexy dance at the end of the first act on Friday, an appreciative man sitting near me said “Awesome!”

Robbie’s band members embody the widely contrasting styles of the era with Ben Martin playing a femme Boy George-like character and Adam Clough as a hyper masculine mullet wearer.

Shain Fike is pompous as Glen, Julia’s rich finacé. His big solo “All About the Green” is one of the catchiest of the show. Ellen Karsten shows off her rapping skills as Robbie’s feisty grandmother Rose.

The candy colored cartoon-like sets include Ridgefield, N.J. homes, a mall, a nightclub and a wedding hall.

The orchestra, led by keyboardist A. Scott Williams, offers a fair impression of the sound of bands like Van Halen and Journey. But at times the musicians overpower the singers, making it hard for the audience to understand all the lyrics.

Maybe because the show is not as well known, “The Wedding Singer” isn’t selling well and there are still lots of seats available. Theater lovers should give it a try, especially those in their 30s and 40s who came of age in the 1980s. With a feel good story and plenty of heart, this show makes you feel as warm and fuzzy as a pair of leg warmers.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit www.twitter.com/lisamillegan or thehive.modbee.com/artsbeat.

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