PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: The Wedding Singer: Adam & Eighties

By Harry Haun
28 Apr 2006

“It has been a very difficult process. It was not a character that was on the page when I started, and people can be very mean—outside voices can be very cruel—but the guys kept their noses to the grindstone, and they worked really hard, and we found her voice. What I’ve really learned on the project is that you gotta keep going. You gotta put one foot in front of the other, no matter what anybody says about you. And I feel like it paid off.”

It also takes some guts to play a plain (as possible) jane when your true love is constantly being bombarded by a couple of insistent blonde bombshells like Spanger and Finley.

Considering the Hart heartbreak she causes, Finley manages nevertheless to be a real crowd-pleaser. “I think a lot of people went to high school with this girl"— `and I know her ' is the way she explains her audience acceptance. “It’s not just tonight. People are diggin’ it every night.”

The Hirschfeld, back when it was the Martin Beck, was a good luck theatre for both Benanti (Maria in The Sound of Music) and Spanger (Bianca/Lois Lane in Kiss Me Kate) so they’re not expecting a change of name to bring them a change of luck. Spanger is her old splashy, flashy stage-self and loves the role. “I like the fact that she’s kinda like the big sister/fairy godmother to her cousin Julia—and she can’t quite figure it out for herself.

"And, also, she’s a Madonna wannabe, which is a lot of fun to do in terms of the fashion.”

At the end of Act I, Spanger gets very splashy indeed, pulling a chord that sends a torrent of water cascading over her. “I spend the entire intermission soaking wet,” she said, with no discernible annoyance. “My hairdresser is blowdrying my hair. He takes my entire hair-prep out and blows it dry. Then I do my makeup completely over so I don’t really have a chance to rest at all. But it’s just so much fun to roll in on that platform and hear the gasp, like ‘Is she actually going to do this?’, then do it, and hear the response—it’s fantastic. It really is worth it. It’s kinda one of the best Act I closers I’ve ever seen or been a part of.”

If they gave awards for Gamut of the Season, the winner this year would surely be Cahoon, who has gone from the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang “Child-catcher” (eerily approximating Max Schreck during the making of "Nosferatu") to Boy George. “The important thing is just to keep working,” he said, shrugging off the range he covered.

Standing by for Benanti is Tina Madigan, who comes to the assignment with plenty of bridal experience: she was the original bride in Mamma Mia!. “I can’t get away from the wedding theme,” she cheerfully lamented. “I love it! I only do shows with white veils.”

And does she sense any distant echoes of Mamma Mia!? “You know what? I think any time I get to stand on stage in a white dress, I will always remember Mamma Mia!

Their Wedding Singer Broadway debut draws a pretty heavy before-after line for songwriters Beguelin and Sklar. Previous attempts to get to NYC got as far as Musical Theatre Works (Oedipus, Private Eye) and Arlington, VA’s Signature Theatre (The Rhythm Club, their retelling of The Harmonists of Nazi Germany). Now, he said, “We’re working on a musical version of `Get Shorty,' the Elmore Leonard novel which was made into a John Travolta movie. It’s completely different from The Wedding Singer. It has a kind of Rat Pack score, very Dean Martin sorta swingy. It’s about a mobster who wants to be a movie producer, so the show is about yearning to be something that you’re not.

“We’re also working on a musical version of `Elf.' It’s about a Christmas elf in the real world. They actually came to us with that one. That’s another New Line newbie, and they said, ‘Listen, we think you’re great for this,’ and we loved the movie. It’s another instance of a property where everyone has a very specific point of view. All the characters have a very specific history and have a very specific point of view, which makes it easy to write.

The Wedding Singer is not a deep show. It’s not a Sweeney Todd. The goal of the show is to make everybody feel good. With this show, you can really enjoy life and also get involved in a love story. Hopefully, when you watch two people who are meant tobe together fall in love, it sorta translates to your own life, and you think, ‘That is the way love is meant to be. There is hope for all of us.”

A couple of Tony-winning denizens of Urinetown (Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis) showed up in support of director John Rando, a fellow Urinetown Tony alum. The latter two, while Hollmann is composing a musicalized My Man Godfrey with Claudia Shear, will reunite on Roundabout’s Pig Farm June 27. Kotis’ new comedy stars John Ellison Conlee, Logan Marshall-Green and Tony winners Katie Finneran and Denis O’Hare.

Other opening-night celebs included Howie Mandel; Annie-Birdie composer Charles Strouse, who will be saluted Sunday at the National Arts Club by Encompas New Opera Theatre; Melissa Joan Hart, formerly of TV’s “Sabrina”; Brian Dennehy; skater Apolo Anton Ohno; directors-choreographers Wayne Cilento and Kathleen Marshall; New Line head Michael Lynne; Joe Pantoliano; All Shook Up’s Cheyenne Jackson; Good VibrationsKate Reinders; still-idling “American Idol” Constantine Maroulis; Hayden Panettiere ; Nathan Phillips; Jeff Blumencrantz; newly minted Drama Desk nominee for Fanny Hill Nancy Anderson ; and Adam Duritz.