“Ring Them Bells”: The Wedding Singer Vocalizes

Special Features   “Ring Them Bells”: The Wedding Singer Vocalizes
Producer Margo Lion called the Jan. 6 press preview for the upcoming Broadway musical The Wedding Singer — based on the hit 1998 New Line Cinema film of the same name — the show’s “engagement party.”

Top: Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti; Bottom: Rita Gardner and Rob Ashford.
Top: Stephen Lynch and Laura Benanti; Bottom: Rita Gardner and Rob Ashford. Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Wedding Singer is, yes, based on the movie,” said Lion, “but it is reimagined, and it has been developed with New Line, and they’re just an extraordinary company because unlike, I think, most film companies, they really do understand what the theatre is all about. And that makes the collaboration particularly fruitful and fun.”

A New Line representative added, “From the small sample you’re going to see today, you will see that The Wedding Singer, the musical, is funny, smart and endearingly romantic.”

The new musical, which will make its world premiere Jan. 31 at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre before arriving at Broadway’s Hirschfeld Theatre on March 30, features direction by John Rando, choreography by Rob Ashford, a book by Chad Beguelin and Tim Herlihy, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin.

Rando, the Tony-winning director of Urinetown, set the scene for the four musical numbers that were presented from the new musical. “In the spring of 1980 in Washington,” Rando said, “Mount St. Helens erupted. In the fall of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. And, right in the middle of that tumultuous decade of upheaval, 1985, a wedding singer from Richfield, New Jersey, Robbie Hart, meets the waitress Julia Sullivan, and they start a relationship that lasts forever.”

The cast — which features comedic singer-songwriter Stephen Lynch as Robbie and two-time Tony nominee Laura Benanti as Julia — offered the show’s pulsing opening number, “It’s Your Wedding Day”; the sweet, comical duet for Robbie and Julia, “Come Out of the Dumpster”; the second-act, all-male number about the virtues of being “Single”; another duet for Robbie and Julia, where they question whether to express their love in “If I Told You”; and a portion of the show’s wedding finale. Lynch, whose previous musical theatre experience includes a college production of Jesus Christ Superstar and “summer-stock fare” like Fiddler on the Roof and Oklahoma!, said that he had wanted to find an alternative to the on-the-road life of a comic. “I told my agent, ‘If there’s anything that crosses your desk theatre-wise that looks interesting, pass it along to me.’ They sent me a few things, and I kind of chucked ‘em and said, ‘No, no, no,’ and then I got to [The Wedding Singer], and I said, ‘That was a funny movie. Let me check it out.’ They sent a CD with the new, original music, and I listened to it, and I was blown away. I thought it was really funny and clever and lyrically it was great and the new songs were really catchy, and they seemed like they’d be fun to sing. So, I said, ‘Let me go in and see if they like me.’ And they did, and here I am!”

About his character, Lynch said, “[Robbie] has a lot of heart. He’s enthusiastic about what he does. He loves music, he loves weddings. ‘Love is what I do’ is what he sings in the opening number. He loves to be in love. He loves his band, and he loves to play, and then he gets this wrench thrown into the works by being left at the altar, and it just sends him into this tailspin. It sounds cheesy, but through the power of love, he comes back from that, and he’s his old self again, and everything’s great.”

When asked what she thinks draws Julia to Robbie, co-star Laura Benanti said, “[It’s his] kindness and sweetness, and he’s real and he cares about people, and he appreciates her. He sees her for who she is, which is a 26-year-old woman who lives with her mom and works as a waitress. But he sees inside of her, her essence, and he loves it. And she loves him back. And they have fun together, and it’s funny and it’s easy. And that’s what it really should be at the end of the day.”

Benanti, whose Broadway credits include the revivals of The Sound of Music, Into the Woods and Nine as well as the all-dancing, all-singing revue Swing!, says that her audition for The Wedding Singer was different from any other Broadway audition she had previously experienced. “I auditioned one time,” explained Benanti. “They called me back, and they actually told me right in the room, which had never happened to me before. It was amazing. I did my callback, and they were like, ‘Can you go wait in the hallway?’ I waited, and they called me back 20 minutes later, and they were all standing up, and [director] John [Rando] said, ‘We all want you to do it.’ I was sort of crying like Miss America.”

Two of the character parts are played by Kevin Cahoon, recently seen as the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Rita Gardner, who created the role of The Girl in the original mounting of The Fantasticks. Cahoon plays the outrageous band member George with Gardner as the wise grandmother Rosie.

About his character, Cahoon said, “George is the keyboard player in the band, [and] he is completely and utterly obsessed with Boy George — dresses like Boy George, acts like Boy George. That’s his main ambition in life is to be Boy George. There’s something also very shy and sweet about him, but when he gets the chance to perform with the wedding band, he becomes like this supernova. It’s really a fantastic role.”

Gardner said her role is especially enjoyable because “at the very end of the play I do a rap number, and I’ve never done that before, but it seems to work! It’s called ‘Move That Thing!’

“It feels great [to be back on stage],” Gardner concluded. “It’s really a good group. What Margo [Lion] said is really true. It’s terrific people.”

From left: Tim Herlihy, Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar.
From left: Tim Herlihy, Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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