19 September 2023

'I am Robbie': The Wedding Singer star reflects on opening of Griffith musical wowing audiences

| Oliver Jacques
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musical theatre performers

Jesse Aviu and Lara Calabria (both at front) play the lead roles in a Griffith musical version of the film The Wedding Singer. Photo: Supplied.

The opening nights of a musical version of the 1998 hit movie The Wedding Singer have featured near-sellout crowds at Griffith Regional Theatre.

Marian Catholic College teachers Jesse Aviu and Lara Calabria took on the lead roles made famous by Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore from the film and presented their own interpretations on stage for a series of performances that began on Wednesday (13 September).

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“Adam Sandler is Adam Sandler, you can’t really be him,” Mr Aviu said. “But when I read the script the first time, I felt that the character of Robbie was me. The fact that he was a wedding singer, he’s a hopeless romantic, he goes through heartbreak, he finds love, he doesn’t know what to do with it, it fit so well. I am Robbie.”

Mr Aviu is himself a singer-songwriter who has performed at several Griffith weddings and released singles under the name JRVU. He’s been on stage numerous times over the past decade, but he said leading a musical was a different challenge.

“If you’re not nervous before going on stage, you’re not human,” he said. ”But I use that to my advantage. There’s a different energy when you can get out there, it helps you more than you think.”

The character he plays – Robbie Hart – is a wedding singer who is considered the life of the party until his own fiancee leaves him at the altar. Shot through the heart, Robbie makes every wedding as disastrous as his own. Enter Julia (Lara Calabria), a winsome waitress who wins his affection. As luck would have it, 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.

two musical theatre performers

Helaina Beltrame and Lara Calabria at rehearsals. Photo: Supplied.

The show has an experienced production crew behind it, headed by director Katherine Sharpe, who previously co-directed the town’s community production Legally Blonde, another cult film that was turned into a musical. Romina Tappi is assistant director, Matt Segrave musical director and Teagan Cirrilo choreographer. Cynthia Arel and Robyn Hutchinson have collected and styled all the costumes, Peter Fordham and helpers have built the set, while John Matkovic, Mark Macedone and other tech staff at the theatre have all the sound and lighting sorted, and stage managers Bonnie Owen and Mahendi Raval ensured the first few nights went off without any glitches.

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Most of the cast and crew have regular day jobs but worked hard at nights and on weekends on a volunteer basis to create the musical. The performance turned some unknown performers into the talk of the town.

“I saw one of the stars in Rossies [supermarket] today working,” one gushing fan said on Facebook.

“Went last night, very enjoyable, great cast,” Anne Veenhuizen said on social media, a comment typical of many.

A limited number of tickets is still available for five more performances of The Wedding Singer:

Wednesday, 20 September, 7:30 pm
Thursday, 21 September, 7:30 pm
Friday, 22 September, 7:30 pm
Saturday, 23 September, 2 pm & 7:30 pm

Tickets can be purchased online or in person at the Griffith Regional Theatre box office.

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