Ardsley High School’s Drama Club rose to the challenge of staging its spring musical, “The Wedding Singer,” despite limitations caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Director Steve Loftus and drama club adviser Tiffany Moleski pulled off the production with a pared-down cast that had minimal physical contact and performed with lapel mics and transparent masks.
The one-shot performance was filmed on May 27, for streaming on demand from June 5-19. Ticket holders will have 48 hours to watch.
Based on the 1998 film starring Adam Sandler as wedding singer Robbie Hart, and Drew Barrymore as his love interest, waitress Julia Sullivan, the musical adaptation debuted on Broadway in 2006 and received multiple Tony and Drama Desk award nominations, but scored no wins.
In the Ardsley version, senior Evan Stroessner plays Robbie, a 1980s wannabe rock star jilted at the altar. Ninth-grader Jessica Wendt plays Julia, who, after complicated plot twists, changes her mind about marrying her lowlife bond investor boyfriend.
The movie’s romantic denouement won a 1998 MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss, but due to the mask mandate, “we couldn’t do the kissing scenes,” Loftus said. However, thanks to the clear face-coverings, “at least we can see them smile.”
Finding protective gear took trial and error. “The ones that looped around the ears kept fogging up and getting kind of gross,” Moleski explained. She and Loftus decided on masks resembling a complete face shield. “Sometimes you couldn’t tell they had a mask on when a character was facing forward,” she said.
Videographer Doug DeMarco of Brown Bag Image, and two other camera operators, filmed the performance.
Casting “The Wedding Singer”’ was another challenge. In addition to some students’ apprehension about the coronavirus, school sports were resuming, and some students could not commit to athletics and rehearsals. “Some of our true-blue drama kids had to make some tough choices,” Moleski commented.
“Only nine auditioned,” Loftus elaborated. “I usually have 25. We needed more bodies.”
He convinced some crew members to perform, if only in small roles. Fourteen students appear in the show, six of them playing multiple characters. Stage manager Deborah Suarez, a senior, joined the ensemble. Moleski praised Loftus’ casting choices, referring to Stroessner as “incredibly talented” and Wendt as a “breakout star.”
Wendt, 15, attended Baltimore Actors’ Theatre Conservatory, an independent K-12 day school, for three years before her family moved to Ardsley when she was in sixth grade. Since then, she appeared in three middle school productions.
Regarding her high school performance, Wendt said, “It was odd at first, because there’s all these empty seats, but then I kind of liked it. It was quiet, but at the same time there were people watching. The crew clapping — I thought that was really funny. It’s very odd without an audience, ‘cause you fuel off the energy.”
She loved her costume — the blue sequined dress the waitress dons when off duty — and the character Julia, as well. “I just thought she was sweet. I am naïve — that’s how we resemble each other.”
Last spring, the Drama Club’s production of “Xanadu” was canceled days before opening night, which makes the success of this year’s show especially important. The “Xanadu” budget was $26,000, while “The Wedding Singer” was $23,000. Moleski expressed concern that this year’s show wasn’t live.
“We’re built on what an audience provides for us. The money that we make on a show goes into the production of the next show. Nobody is donating the costumes and equipment, etc.,” Moleski said. “We’re counting on the viewership to be able to produce another show next year. We spent all of that money on ‘Xanadu,’ and we didn’t get to produce that show.”
She emphasized that Ardsley Friends of the Visual Arts and the Drama Club helped raise money for “Xanadu,” and when it was cancelled, sponsors did not ask for their money back. Moleski promised to carry over their sponsorships to the next show. However, the pandemic put one vendor and some sponsors out of business, e.g., Westchester Broadway Theatre.
Despite the obstacles with which Loftus had to contend, “It’s better than not being able to do it at all, for sure,” he said. “A mirrored ball and a lot of flashy costumes — those are really our tricks.”
“The Wedding Singer” costs $17 for one person, $25 for two people, and $35 for more than two. Tickets are available online at Showtix4u.com (keyword: Ardsley) or by calling 1-866-967-8167.