Phoenicia Playhouse performs The Wedding Singer

The Cast of the Phoenicia Playhouse Playhouse production of The Wedding Singer. (photo by Mark Loete)

Start getting used to the name Phoenicia Playhouse (formerly STS Playhouse and before that, Shandaken Theatrical Society) with the renamed theater’s first production, The Wedding Singer, which runs July 7-23. The musical comedy, based on the Adam Sandler film of the same name, has been called the Grease! of the 1980s and is chock-full of singing and dancing, along with period costumes and impersonations of 80s pop singers, from Cyndi Lauper to Boy George.

The talented team of director Victoria “Tori” McCarthy and her choreographer sister, Amber McCarthy, have collaborated in Phoenicia before, on musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors and Oklahoma! Most recently, they created Onteora High School’s production of Les Misérables, a darkly dramatic musical that made the pair inclined to work on a fun, upbeat show like The Wedding Singer.

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“We thought it would be easier,” said Tori, but a close perusal of the script revealed no less than nine blockbuster song-and-dance numbers. Undaunted, the sisters dug in, each serving more than one role in the production, as often happens in community theater. Amber, in addition to doing all the choreography, plays a supporting role based on Madonna. Tori adds to her directing duties the job of wardrobe mistress and a part in the male ensemble (men being, as usual, in short supply), plus the impersonation of Billy Idol.

Although Tori was born towards the end of the 80s, she is familiar with the decade’s culture and bolstered her knowledge by viewing hundreds of period music and exercise videos. She and Amber studied dance moves, hair, costumes, and sets. “It’s really important to me that the audience feels they are back in the 80s as soon as they step into the theater,” said Tori. She combed thrift shops for dresses with shoulder pads or poufy sleeves for the women, and parachute pants for the men. “All the fashion was loud,” she noted. “The colors were neon, and they used big geometrical shapes. Women wore big hair and blue eyeshadow up to the eyebrows, hot pink lipstick, and beads.”

Some of the 22 cast members were in their 20s during the 1980s and “could tell me how it was then,” said Tori. “It’s exciting to watch them reliving their young adulthood. And then there are younger actors whose parents were young in the 80s, and the kids are wearing their parents’ clothes onstage.” The youngest cast member is 13, while long-time STS actor Jim Barden celebrated his 90th birthday a week before opening night.

The title character, Robbie Hart, is a would-be rock star turned wedding singer, who is jilted at the altar but finds love again after many travails, with Julia, a warm-hearted waitress. Robbie is played by Terrence Boyer, whose acting debut came with the lead in Grease! at STS in 2013. Other cast members include Chris Bick, Jessica Boyer, Daniel Foster, Val Lawrence, Emma Morcone, Laura “Lo” Morcone, Gretchen Nau, and Libby Sokolowski. They are supported by an ensemble consisting of Jim Barden, Kailee Cornelison, Sean Foster, Becca Frank, Aaron Hall, Bridget Harkin, Brooke Harrison, Megan Haaland, Helene Matera, Emily Peck, and Kristy Tromboli. Lee Stowe is the musical director, with John Stobaeus as lighting designer, and Burr Hubbell and Ken Haaland as set designers.

“You’ll want to see it twice,” said Tori. “There’s so much dancing and so many people to watch.” The show will entertain both adults and children, although there is some slightly salty language.

Cast members will participate in a “Totally 80s” fashion show at the Blue Barn Marketplace, 7053 Route 28, Shandaken, on Saturday, July 15, before that evening’s performance. An open house runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., featuring refreshments and live music by the Tom, T.J., and Mary Trio.

The last Saturday night show will be followed by an “Eighties 101” party on July 22 from 10 p.m. to midnight at The Lot at Phoenicia Diner, 5681 Route 28, Phoenicia. Attendees will enjoy 80s drinks and tunes, plus an 80s costume contest.

The recent renaming of the theater is accompanied by a strategy for expanding the use of the charming old building in the center of Phoenicia. Plans call for a renovation and offering of the venue for workshops and shows, in addition to the usual four plays a year produced by the Playhouse.

Phoenicia Playhouse presents The Wedding Singer from July 7 to 23, with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. General admission tickets are $20, or $18 for students, seniors, and Phoenicia Playhouse members. Advance reservations are strongly encouraged by calling the box office at (845) 688-2279. Tickets can be bought at the box office, 10 Church Street, Phoenicia, or online at https://phoeniciaplayhouse.com.