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Nuptials could use a wedding planner

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The show title My Mother's Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding couldn't be more fringe festival-esque, unless it had the word "sex" wedged in there.

This ingratiating musical comedy got its start at the 2009 Toronto Fringe Festival. And despite its expanded length (about 100 minutes without intermission) and the fact that it got picked up for a Toronto run by Mirvish Productions, it's still a fringe show.

That is, it's exuberant, goofy and cute, as well as half-baked, insubstantial and semi-amateurish.

There's been talk of it making it to Broadway because it was well received at the 2010 New York Musical Theatre Festival. But judging by the Winnipeg Studio Theatre production that opened Thursday at the RMTC Warehouse, this wedding has as much chance of a solid Broadway run as Kim Kardashian's marriage had of surviving its first year.

There's no question MMLJWW has its heart in a positive place with its affirmation of diversity, self-acceptance and same-sex marriage rights. But charm and an uplifting political message only get you so far.

David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the married co-creators who based the show on the true story of Hein's mother, Claire, are novice playwrights. Their dialogue and lyrics sorely lack comic bite and originality, while the shallow narrative has little conflict or dramatic shape, coming across more like a musical revue.

The story traces Claire's post-divorce identity quest as she moves from Saskatoon to Ottawa in her late 30s, acquires a lesbian roommate, falls in love with the Wiccan Jane, comes to terms with her Jewish heritage and heads for the crowd-pleasing nuptials promised by the title.

Annabel Kershaw and Rosemary Doyle, the Toronto leads imported to play Claire and Jane, are well matched, vocally strong and have convincing romantic chemistry. Director Kayla Gordon, though, allows a few of Kershaw's moments at the ends of scenes to descend into mugging.

The guitar-strumming Hein is so smiley and wholesome, he's almost in the Ned Flanders zone. He narrates the autobiographical tale, often sitting with the capable four-piece band.

Scott Peterson does a fine job of playing the teen and university-age "Davey" in the past, and then in a funny moment, Hein boots him out of the role and assumes it himself.

Sankoff also plays herself as Hein's girlfriend, then wife. The pair are fringe/university-calibre performers. The rest of the 10-person cast is uneven, but mention should be made of Winnipeg's fast-rising Stephanie Sy, a sparkling triple threat who milks every ounce of comedy from her ensemble roles. Kami Desilets also shines as the dyke Michelle.

Too many of the numbers are overly similar, musically bland and fail to capitalize on their satiric potential. But there are several winners, choreographed for abundant laughs by Brenda Gorlick.

When Claire's sedate, cardigan-clad ex-husband (John Bluethner) hears that she's involved with a woman, he has a very funny, porn-inspired musical fantasy of "hot lesbian action."

The true tale of how Hein's two moms were introduced to Sankoff at a Hooters restaurant escalates into a big, raunchy production number that's bouncy in more ways than one.

The song A Short History of Gay Marriage, set at a Parliament Hill gay rights rally, is a pale cousin of the gospel-pop Seasons of Love from Rent. Still, it's emotionally stirring with its anthemic "Legalize love!" refrain and evocative use of projected news photos and headlines.

Photos of the real-life couple's gloriously non-traditional nuptials are a delightful touch at the end. But like many sincere fringe productions that arise out of personal experience, MMLJWW is probably too married to what really happened. A compelling musical play needs a story arc and some struggle before the wedding cake is wheeled out.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 G3

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