The 1998 romantic comedy THE WEDDING SINGER is a sweet, off-kilter film that has touched audiences since its release. Starring a shy Drew Barrymore as Julia Sullivan and an awkward, humble Adam Sandler as Robbie Hart, THE WEDDING SINGER shows that even seemingly ordinary people in a suburb of New Jersey can have an epic love story – and that everyone deserves love.
It can be hard to see why a film so strong would need a musical adaptation. No stage version could possibly improve on the source material, right? Maybe not. But adding songs to a movie and putting it on stage can add an intensity and immediacy to the story that in many ways enhances it. Adding original songs to THE WEDDING SINGER expands the world of the characters and heightens their emotions, letting the audience experience the intensity far more keenly.
Music has an important role in the original movie version of THE WEDDING SINGER. A score composed of ’80s pop hits helps enforce the movie’s 1985 setting while underscoring the universality of Julia and Robbie’s emotions. Because Robbie is a wedding singer – someone who makes his living expressing other people’s love through song – music takes on an additional significance, particularly when Robbie himself sings in the film.
In the show, Robbie makes the lyrical journey from singing about someone else’s romantic happiness in “It’s Your Wedding Day” to singing about his own in “Grow Old With You”, a song taken from the film. Such a progression simply doesn’t exist when Robbie begins the story singing a pop song, as he does in the movie. Moreover, the musical ends with a reprise of “It’s Your Wedding Day,” emphasizing Robbie’s arc and giving the show a satisfying conclusion. The show begins with Robbie singing about someone else’s wedding; it ends with the other characters singing about Robbie’s wedding. This cyclical structure, while present in the film, doesn’t resonate in quite the same way without being manifest in song.
The music in the stage version of THE WEDDING SINGER also significantly establishes the worlds of the characters. The ’80s style score, written by Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar, cleverly uses the popular genres of the time to give the characters their own musical worlds, establishing far more about character far more subtly than a non-musical film can. Dreamy Julia’s songs are gentle pop songs; Robbie, bitter and jaded about love after being unceremoniously dumped, sings head-banging rock songs; Julia’s fiance Glen’s only song has a mechanical beat and is about money. The music therefore serves two purposes: to reinforce the ’80s setting, as does the soundtrack of the film, and to reveal character.
The musical version of THE WEDDING SINGER builds on the idea of music being an emotional language. Julia’s obsession with getting married is given a somewhat kooky quality in “Someday,” and her fear that Glen will break up with her instead of propose is far more evident in the show than in the film due to her song “Pop!” Linda’s breakup note to Robbie becomes so harsh that it’s hilarious when sung to a heavy metal arrangement.
“To my dearest Robbie,
I think we need some space.
Please forgive my timing
Dot dot dot, smiley face”
packs a very different punch than the unrhymed note in the film, especially since the words are unscored by the progression of notes in “Pachabel’s Canon,” a piece traditionally associated with weddings. The absurdity of such a note makes Linda’s rejection of Robbie on their wedding day even more insulting.
Robbie’s songs show him wallowing in his post-breakup pain in a more active way than in the film. The scene in the film where Robbie delievers a cynical speech at a wedding he was hired to perform at, is horribly awkward and funny, but when Robbie sings “Casualty of Love” in the musical, Robbie, the other characters, and the audience are able to really live in Robbie’s frustration and bitterness. At the same time, the song unifies Robbie and the wedding guests he singles out. While in the film, Robbie spotlights the guests at Table 9, calling them loveless freaks, those guests sing along with Robbie in the musical. They are all equally casualties of love, with Robbie embracing them as his people instead of bemoaning his descent to their level.
Finally, the music in the stage version of THE WEDDING SINGER lets the audience experience the developing relationship between Robbie and Julia. Julia doesn’t just connect with Robbie when she sweetly urges him to “Come Out of the Dumpster;” she charms the audience as well. Robbie and Julia’s easy banter and denial that “It’s Not That Kind of Thing” show the audience that they’re increasingly falling for each other while letting the audience realize that for itself – as Robbie and Julia start to suspect that their feelings may not be strictly platonic. Capturing this progression in an extended musical sequence, rather than spreading it out across multiple scenes as the film does, gives the audience a specific, concrete moment to latch onto, and intensifies Julia and Robbie’s emotions by fitting them into the span of a song. Robbie’s eventual confession of love in “Grow Old With You,” another song from the film, is the natural final step in their musical relationship. It also provides a nice parallel to the first time Julia sings to Robbie, in “Come Out of the Dumpster.” Then, Julia wants Robbie to embrace life; now, Robbie wants Julia to embrace life next to him.
It’s certainly true that not all movies require a musical adaptation. But in some instances, a live musical version can crack open the story’s emotional core, using the strengths and unique abilities of musical theatre to offer new character insights and emotionally connect to the audience as only musical theatre can. The moment the opening chords of “It’s Your Wedding Day” fill the air, it’s evident that the musical version of THE WEDDING SINGER does exactly that.
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