This is a show based on an Adam Sandler movie, which is never a good sign. Granted, the movie it’s based on is arguably Sandler’s best movie ever, but the stage version doesn’t seem to understand why that was the case.
The original movie was set in 1985, but it remained focused on the characters and the central romance, and while there was some humor at the expense of Eighties pop culture, it was decidedly downplayed; the primary reason for the Eighties setting appeared to be so they could fill the soundtrack with classic Eighties songs.
The stage version, on the other hand, buried the movie’s original story with every Eighties joke the writers could come up with, and the lame referential one-liners about things like New Coke get old pretty fast.
Worse, the thing that made the original movie so uniquely appealing in Sandler’s oeuvre…the fact that it really was a romantic comedy first and everything else second…is completely lost here, the whole show turning from a quirky love story into a heavy-handed spoof.
That said, the Eighties connection did provide one saving grace—the score is an affectionate pastiche of all things Eighties, and it’s surprisingly enjoyable, and a good match for the actual Eighties song on the movie soundtrack.
For example, “Someday” is an Eighties take on Motown-style girl-group pop (think Belinda Carlisle). “Casualty of Love” is new-wave (it corresponds exactly to the J. Geils Band’s “Love Stinks” in the film), “All About the Green” is Eighties R&B, “If I Told You” is an Adult Contemporary ballad, “Let Me Come Home” is pop-metal a la Def Leppard, and “Move That Thang” is early rap.
Actually, this collection of imitation Eighties nostalgia is a better and more consistent set of songs than the real thing would be three years later in Rock of Ages. In fact, it’s probably the best Broadway score of the season, if only by default, given that the only good show that year was a Jukebox musical. I can’t in good conscience recommend the show itself, but I highly recommend the cast album.