Those Magic Moments
APT fans will fall in love with ‘Wedding Singer’
Love is all about moments — culminating, in a perfect world, in the wedding to end all weddings.
The same might be said of “The Wedding Singer,” opening tonight at Arkansas Public Theatre in Rogers. Based on the 1988 movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, the musical can be seen as a whole — the story of Robbie, a wedding singer; his broken romance with Linda; his attempt at corporate America; and, finally, the happy ending with the girl of his dreams, Julia. Or it can be seen as a series of joyous moments shared by a talented cast with playgoers who know what to look for. These are my top seven.
In the opening number, “It’s Your Wedding Day,” watch Anna Knight, whom you certainly remember as The Lady of the Lake in “Spamalot,” steal the stage as the bride. As music director and conductor Lisa Auten will truthfully tell you, not all who can dance can sing and vice versa. Knight can do both, and even as a member of the ensemble, her joy is infectious. Just spend this whole song watching her!
During the opening scene, you’ll also meet Cody Robinson, returning to the APT stage in his first starring role as Robbie Hart. You’ll remember him as Farquaad in “Shrek: The Musical” and Lonny in “Rock of Ages,” but you might be surprised to find out he walked out of his first APT audition before being cast.
“I heard they were doing ‘Hairspray’ at what was then Rogers Little Theater back in 2012, and I decided I was going to go try for it,” he says. “I went to the first night of auditions, and of course, I had to sing and dance. At call-backs, I had a mini-heart attack and left, just straight up walked out the door!”
Dance captain Zachary McClure Denison encouraged his dad, director Ed McClure, to call Robinson and put him in the ensemble — and they soon found out it wasn’t his first show. Growing up in Gravette, Robinson played high school football, was president of Select Choir and appeared in plays. “I tried to find myself by being a Renaissance man,” he says. “The problem I’m having right now is being a gymnastics coach and yelling all day, then singing all night. But the best show in the world is an ’80s musical!”
Kailee Mathews is immediately engaging as Julia when she and Robinson sing “Awesome,” the song Robbie Hart is trying to write for his fiancee. Mathews (Sherrie Christian in “Rock of Ages”) has a winsome, hopeful quality that makes her the perfect romantic lead.
Did I mention Robinson can also play guitar? And while you’re watching musicians, don’t forget to watch Auten lead the live orchestra. Her hands fly over the keyboard, but her eyes never leave the stage. She is … well, the wedding coordinator.
In the McDonough wedding scene, Robbie has been dumped by Linda and lets out all his anger and pain in a song titled “Casualty of Love.” If you’re not in the mood for romance, this song will be your moment — and Julia’s next moment, “Come Out of the Dumpster,” is charming.
Sarah Mouritsen was a heartbreaking Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” and she’s back as Julia’s friend with the street smarts. Just before intermission, she blows the roof off the Victory with “Saturday Night in the City.”
Julia is in love with a guy named Glen Guglia, played by APT newcomer Brandtly Wheeler as an arrogant Wall Street wheeler-dealer who loves money more than he loves Julia. The ensemble helps him open Act II with “Nothing But the Green,” a song about what matters most to him.
“Some of the dances look more spontaneous — they do, after all happen at weddings,” says director Ed McClure. “But this is the full-on Broadway-style dance number — precise and tight choreography. We owe that to our choreographer, Jenella Young.”
Young says she studied ballet, tap, jazz and hip hop from the age of 4 through high school and has been choreographing for APT for the past five years.
“I always teach the hardest version of dance steps, close to the Broadway versions,” she says of her work at APT. “Very rarely do I need to water things down. I love the classic ’80s moves I’ve been able to teach [this time]. We’ve got ‘The Sprinkler,’ ‘The Molly Ringwald’ and even Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’!”
That’s not all the moments — just all the inches for this story. Keep your eyes on cast members you know and love — Michael Myers (the Emcee in “Cabaret”) and Ty Volz (Donkey in “Shrek”) as Robbie’s bandmates; and Kathy McClure (“Mame”) as Robbie’s rapping — and dancing — granny (although I think there’s some sleight of hand going on there, Alix Keil!) But watch all of the ensemble for the great moments that happen there.
You might think you’re not in the mood, but as the song says, love is what they do.
“Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
Cody Robinson, center, is “The Wedding Singer,” joined by his backup band, George (Michael Myers), left, and Sammy (Ty Volz) in the APT production opening tonight.