On a visit to the Bay Area, I learned about the Redwood City Community Theatre and realized that I would be able to see its current production, The Wedding Singer. This is an important year for the theatre, a sweet year as it celebrates 10 years of performances, a sad year with the loss of Steve Penna, who along with director, Lesley Hoelper and others founded this theatre. He was also known locally as “Mr. Redwood City”, and this show was dedicated to him. It is currently being performed at the home of Redwood City Community Theatre, Sequoia High School’s Carrington Hall, upgraded and comfortable.
The Wedding Singer is a musical with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin, and a book by Beguelin and Tim Herlihy. It is based on the 1998 film of the same name. The musical revolves around Robbie, who sings at weddings, his failed relationship with his former fiancée, and his romance with a new love, Julia. The musical premiered on Broadway in 2006 and had several US tours starting in 2007. It was nominated for the 2006 Tony Award for Best Musical. It subsequently has had many international productions..
The basic story: It’s 1985 and rock-star wannabe Robbie Heart, who still lives in his grandmother’s basement, is New Jersey’s favorite wedding singer. He’s the life of the party until his fiancée, Linda, leaves him at the altar.
Robbie is so distraught that he makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. When he meets Julia, an admiring young waitress, Robbie falls madly in love. But – Julia is about to be married to a Wall Street shark, and unless Robbie can pull off the performance of a decade, the girl of his dreams will be gone forever.
With a score that pays loving homage to the pop songs of the 1980s, The Wedding Singer takes us back to a time when hair was big, greed was good, collars were up, and a wedding singer might just have been the coolest guy in the room!
There were some standout performances by individuals, with terrific dance numbers, songs that were often charming, glitzy costumes, and terrific sets and staging. The “unsung heroes” were the members of the band as they seemed to keep things moving right along and they sounded great. Two of my favorite numbers were “A Note from Grandma” and “Today I am a Man”.
Producer and Director, Lesley Hoelper agreed to answer a few questions as follows.
BK. How did you happen to find your way to Community Theater?
LH. In 2003 my friend Wendy Schettino and I started the musical production program for the San Carlos Middle schools. It was such a success, it still exists today. The following year she could not continue this path with me. And have been directing by myself ever since.
I continued onto high school productions at Sequoia High School. Then in 2008 the city of Redwood City contacted myself, and the theatre Manager Dave “PapaBear” Briggs and asked if we could utilize the space at the historic theatre, Carrington Hall. We brainstormed and that was the birth of Redwood City Community Theatre. Our first production, Bye Bye Birdie was in 2009.
BK. What do you see the major differences between commercial theater and community theater?
LH. WOW, do I love commercial theatre. So my goal in all 10 shows I have directed for RCCT is to strive toward that equity production. The big difference is that, we rarely see a triple threat. But we do see very talented individuals that can do 1 or 2 of the 3 very well. That is why I created a casting system of featured dancer and featured singers along with the lead roles Grab the great dancers who may or may not be the best singers and create roles where their primary role is to bring to RCCT high level dancing. Same goes for the singing. But I must say it amazes me what talent exists in the Bay Area. Amazing
BK. What factors determined the production of “Wedding Singer” at this time?
LH.I have a few musts when picking a show
1 Fabulous upbeat music.
2. Big Choreography. This is what we are known for.
3. Large cast. I just love a big production.
4. Well recognized current show. I do not like to direct older shows.
BK. I notice that the cast is very large. Can you comment on that?
LH. This ties into question 3. We have a big theatre as our home. And we have the ability to put on big splashy productions. But there is another reason. I was a sports person all my life. And so when I got into theatre more and more, I realized that theatre is a sport. And a home away from home for many. When I was doing the middle school shows, we had double casts…I did not want to turn the kids away.
I not only got used to large casts but knew I could make the students feel good about themselves. So I cast all. I have carried on this theory throughout. Of course in Community Theatre, I do need to cut auditionees. I just can’t cast all. But I do love a big cast and am comfortable with it. And each year when I see an actor or two grow as individuals because I gave them the opportunity then I know it is all worth it!
My husband and I left the theatre agreeing that this was a feel good experience. With one more weekend to enjoy the show, you, too, can leave a little cheerier and enriched.
For information and tickets. Go the Redwood Community Theatre website
Photos are courtesy of Redwood City Community Theatre, “The Wedding Singer”