Get off the tracks: ‘Wedding Singer’ uses live band
Summit City Music Theatre musicians will bring high-energy show to life
Summit City Music Theatre has opened their 2023 season by going back to the 1980s.
Opting for fun over drama, the theater company is putting on the musical adaptation of Adam Sandler’s 1998 film The Wedding Singer at The Charles on Carroll Road.
“We were looking for something that maybe had not been done in the Fort Wayne area and also just something to kick off the season with a lot of fun,” director Gavin Thomas Drew said ahead of the Feb. 24 opening. “This just seemed like the perfect venue. Doing The Wedding Singer in a wedding venue made sense.”
The PG-13 show continues this weekend, with shows slated for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 3 and 4, as well as a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, March 5.
Musical ‘is not deep’
The film and musical follows wedding singer Robbie Hart, whose fiancée leaves him at the altar. What ensues is hilarity as Robbie continues to perform despite being downtrodden, but falls for Julia, who is engaged to smirking Glenn.
“It’s very similar to the movie, so it has everything you love about the movie and some new stuff — obviously more singing,” Drew said about the musical that hit Broadway in 2006. “Everything is in the style of classic ’80s songs.
“I’ve been saying this to our cast, too, but The Wedding Singer is not deep,” he added. “If you’re coming to the theater for a dramatic theatrical experience, this is not it. But if you want to have a drink at the bar and have some great performers sing some fun music, this is the night for you.”
Those performers include the leads, Jayden Cano as Robbie and Cassie Rentfrow as Julia.
“I watched the movie once when I was a single-digit age, but then I saw this and got interested in the movie and the musical,” Rentfrow said. “I fell in love with it.”
Taking role to heart
Cano and Rentfrow also starred together in Indiana Musical Theatre Foundation’s Green Day’s American Idiot last fall.
A 2022 Ball State University graduate, Cano says there’s something about contemporary musicals that call to him.
“I think the fun in those is that you can easily see yourself in them,” he said. “You can easily translate yourself into a show or into a character. Not to bash Golden Age musical theater, because I went to college for musical theater and I love musical theater, but I think contemporary theater is something that is needed, especially in Fort Wayne, as a medium to tell stories that are relevant to today.”
While American Idiot, which stemmed from Green Day’s Grammy-winning album of the same name, carried a weighty message, the same can’t be said for The Wedding Singer, which is all about having a good time.
“The show has so much fun and love in it that I think we’re all kind of feeling that,” Cano said. “It’s a show about love. It’s a show about fun. If I had one word to describe this show, it would be love.”
Love might be the theme of the show, but for a period of time, Cano gets to play a crestfallen character trying to pick himself up following a gut-wrenching breakup.
“The fun part about Robbie is that he’s just human,” Cano said. “There are a lot of characters that you look at and you’re like, ‘That’s a caricature of who they’re trying to be.’ Robbie is so vulnerable. He’s not afraid to wear is heart on his sleeve. You always know how he’s feeling. You always know what he’s thinking just by looking at him. Then it gets interesting when you get to those parts when he’s trying to conceal that, like when he’s slowly falling in love with Julia.”
A demonstration of Robbie wearing his heart on his sleeve is the scene where he breaks out his guitar to sing “Somebody Kill Me,” a performance that got Cano the leading role.
“I saw Jayden in American Idiot,” Drew said. “I did not even know he played guitar. After I heard him sing, I asked him if he’d be interested in coming in to audition, and he surprised me by coming into the audition with a guitar and sang ‘Somebody Kill Me,’ from The Wedding Singer. We knew right then and there that we had Robbie Hart.”
Live music keeps show on track
The cast is not the only musical performers in the show. The backing band will be on stage, which is where musical director Rolin Mains comes in.
The Dove Award winner moved to Fort Wayne in 2021 from Nashville, Tennessee, and firmly believes a live band is essential to musical theater.
“A lot of people are using tracks now, and they use tracks because of the pandemic, mostly,” he said. “But this is live theater, and live theater goes with live musicians. We feed off the cast, the cast feeds off the audience, and the audience is different every night. It all works together to create a show.
“Honestly, if they’re using tracks, I don’t want to do it,” he added. “It defeats the purpose. It’s just karaoke at that point. I just don’t like that at all.”
Instead of tracks, Mains will be on stage playing the keyboard alongside guitarist Tyler Crisp, bassist Trevor Perkins, and drummer Carl Bleke.
“We could have three of us playing in the Embassy, and we’d fill up the energy of the space better than turning up a track,” Mains said. “You can have a fully produced track with full orchestra and turn it way up, and it still doesn’t have the feel of a live band. Really, that’s what live theater is. We’re all in this room together.”
And the band does more than just supply the music in The Wedding Singer.
“It brings such a breath of life into the show itself, especially with this show,” Drew said of the musicians. “They’re on the stage the entire time, and they are interacted with.”
nothin’ but a good time
Energy will surely fill The Charles, which is an ideal spot for The Wedding Singer since it is a wedding venue.
“The fact that the space is so small and personal means (the audience) are feeling like they are a part of the show,” Cano said. “People might be interacting with them, the action is right in your face, and it makes it feel like a party for everyone.
“Even if you’re not a fan of musicals or musical theater, The Wedding Singer is going to be a show you can come and enjoy,” he added. “So much of the music is just fun, hard rock, a la Mötley Crüe or ZZ Top. ‘Saturday Night in the City’ is just a really good powerhouse rock song. If you’re a fan of ’80s music, you’ll enjoy the music in this show.”