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

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28 Apr 2006

From Top: Laura Benanti and Stephen Lynch; John Rando; Tim Herlihy; Matthew Sklar; Chad Beguelin; Nancy Anderson; Cheyenne Jackson; Melissa Joan Hart; Charles Strouse; Marissa Jaret Winokur; Jerry Mitchell; Diana DeGarmo.
From Top: Laura Benanti and Stephen Lynch; John Rando; Tim Herlihy; Matthew Sklar; Chad Beguelin; Nancy Anderson; Cheyenne Jackson; Melissa Joan Hart; Charles Strouse; Marissa Jaret Winokur; Jerry Mitchell; Diana DeGarmo.
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Like Life, it started with Adam—in this [lower] case, with Adam Sandler. “It was Adam’s idea to make the guy a wedding singer, but my idea was The Eighties,” recalled Tim Herlihy, explaining the division of labor which, once married for better or for worse, produced two cute sleepers both named The Wedding Singer—one an $80-million movie-grosser in 1998, and now a musical at the Al Hirschfeld.

Herlihy hitched up with Sandler when the latter left “Saturday Night Live” for movies. They scripted the first two title roles that pretty much set $andler up in Hollywood—"Billy Madison" in 1995 and "Happy Gilmore" in 1996—prompting the budding box-office star to form Happy Madison Productions and produce "The Wedding Singer," which, true to its money-earning stock, made almost twice the combined gross of those two previous films.

Money talks, and Broadway producer Margo Lion was only too happy to listen when the movie company that sold her "Hairspray"—New Line Cinema—came calling again with this project. Sans a Sandler to sell, Lion opted for The Eighties, and it was full steam ahead.

“What’s so thrilling is that this is a generation that really hasn’t had a show for themselves,” she trumpeted in one of the quieter alcoves of Crobar while the opening-night party was going full blast. “An upbeat comedy, like Hairspray is for The Sixties. This is for The Eighties.

“Also, I wanted to work with writers for whom The Eighties actually meant something.” This led her to a thirtysomething set of tunesmiths—lyricist Chad Beguelin, who helped the theatrically green Herlihy turn his screenplay into a musical book, and composer Matthew Sklar. “There’s nothing I like better than introducing new people to Broadway.

“When I decided to do the show, I said to the authors, ‘I’ll do it on one condition’—that you’ll have a song about the greed of The Eighties—what I remember most is the market and Reagan—so they wrote this great opening for Act II [“All About the Green”].

“It has been a real journey,” admitted Lion, still fresh from the finish line. “We started off in Seattle, went out of town for a reason—to see what worked and what needed work. We found that out, and this team really went to work, making all of the changes they needed to after Seattle. I think now the show is everything we imagined it could be—and more.”

Her Hairspray support system was well in place, both at the theatre and at the party. Among the well-wishers from that show: Tony-winning book-writers Thomas Meehan, back at work with Mel Brooks on their Young Frankenstein musical, and Mark O’Donnell, escorting a favorite star from one of his Eighties plays, Alice Playten.

“It opened at Playwrights Horizons as That’s All, Folks,” recalled O’Donnell, “then Warner Bros. issued a cease-and-desist or something, and it became That’s It, Folks. It took place on the last day on earth, hence That’s All, Folks.” The playful Playten chimed in in her chirpy fashion. “It was directed by Doug Hughes, and, word for word, to this day, it still remains the funniest play I ever read or saw. On the opening page, it said, ‘First Scene: The last day on earth.’ ‘Second Scene: Later that same day.’”

Writer-director John Waters, who got to market first with the film "Hairspray," was also present, pencil-thin mustache and all. Allan S. Gordon of Rent and Adam Epstein of The Crucible are among the Hairspray-Wedding Singer producers who are going to go for a second level of musical Waters—his 1990 Johnny Depp opus, "Cry-Baby." It’s on the Seattle-in-February/Broadway-in-spring swing, and casting is going on now. Baldwin, the title character’s chief nemesis, will be Christopher J. Hanke from the late Into My Life.

Hairspray’s original nemesis, Laura Bell Bundy, done with her "Dreamgirls" shooting, was with Hairspray choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who’s turning into a hyphenate these days, directing and choreographing a musical version of Reese Witherspoon’s Legally Blonde. Bundy, being blonde, is involved in that. “We’re not doing a workshop,” qualified Mitchell. “We’re doing an invited dress rehearsal. I’m inviting producers and the people who are giving money to come watch me rehearse some of the show.”

The most unexpected arrival was Hairspray’s original Tracy Turnblad, Marissa Jaret Winokur—“in from California, just for the night,” she said. “I got in at 4, and I leave tomorrow at 6 AM. I’m on a TV show called `Stacked,' and I just shot two new pilots so, hopefully, if that doesn’t go, I’ve got a backup. I’d go anywhere for Margo so here I am, in my little prom dress, to support her.” Winokur, a total unknown at the time of Hairspray, owes her Tony for Best Actress to Lion who entrusted her with the lead.

For The Wedding Singer, the fearless Lion turned over the title role to another Broadway novice (albeit, one with singing and Comedy Central chops), Stephen Lynch. How did he find his official first night on Broadway? “It’s so terrifying and exciting and exhilarating—and it’s making me really tired,” he confessed in one of those cement cubbyholes on the second-floor landing, surrounded on all sides by friends and family.

“It has been a real learning process for me,” he wearily allowed, “but everybody—the cast, the crew, the creative team—have been so welcoming to me, and that made it so easy. It hasn’t been like going to work. It has been like having fun every day with your friends.”

The primer-simple plot doesn’t go much beyond Jersey boy meets Jersey girl, which we’ve already seen (times four) this season. Lynch plays Robbie Hart, a Ridgefield, NJ, youth who sings at weddings and gets dumped at his own. Indeed, he literally winds up in a Dumpster when he attempts to come back to work too soon and gets too cynically real in front of a couple of newlyweds. The girl who helps him out (of the aforementioned Dumpster) and on the road to romantic recovery is a waitress who works the same wedding parties as he, Julia Sullivan (Laura Benanti), herself mismatched and well on her way to becoming Julia Guglia.

Glen Guglia (Richard H. Blake) is another way of saying Gordon “Greed Is Good” Gekko ("Wall Street"’s Oscar-winning Michael Douglas). Other icons of the times can be read into pal parts of the two leads—a Boy George-esque bandsman named George (Kevin Cahoon) and a brazen bimbo of the Madonna mold (Amy Spanger). Our hero also contends with a recurring nightmare of a fickle fiancee (Felicia Finley) and an XXX-mouthed grandma (Rita Gardner, the original Girl from The Fantasticks).

Laura Benanti, a serene beauty late-blooming into Everygirl, mouses up rather nicely in the role Drew Barrymore tenderized in the movie. A wig with bangs helps, but Benanti displays some real growth as an actress. “That’s what I was hoping to accomplish,” she admitted. “The boys worked really, really hard on my character. It took a while to find her voice, but they really did, and it’s fantastic. I’m real proud of them—and grateful to them.


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