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'Wedding Singer' rocks audience with blasts from the past

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Pittsburgh CLO
J. Michael Zygo will play Robbie in the CLO production of 'The Wedding Singer'
Jeff Katz Photography
Jenna Ushkowitz, who starred as Tina on Fox’s “Glee,' will play Julia in Pittsburgh CLO's 'The Wedding Singer.'

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera celebrates Flashback Friday with the July 24 opening of its homegrown production of “The Wedding Singer.”

The musical rom-com follows in the footsteps of a flurry of late-20th-century movies turned musicals — “Dirty Dancing,” “Footloose,” “Ghost” — that have played the Benedum Center over the past two years.

Set in 1985 — an era of big hair, spandex, stiletto heels and Swatch watches — “The Wedding Singer” began as a 1998 movie starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

Sandler played Robbie Hart, New Jersey's most-sought-after wedding singer and rock-star aspirant who knows how to keep any party going. But after his fiancee drops him at the altar, his bitterness turns every wedding reception he's hired for into a disaster.

Julia, a charming cater waitress, could repair his heart, his career and his future. Julia will be played by Jenna Ushkowitz, who starred as Tina on Fox's “Glee.” But first he has to separate her from her self-obsessed fiance.

“It's just one of the most fun shows I have ever done in my life,” says J. Michael Zygo, who will play Robbie in the CLO production. “It translates so well to the stage and brings enough from the movie that you can appreciate the stage version even if you've never seen the movie.”

This is Zygo's debut with CLO, although he previously appeared at the Benedum in 2010 with the national touring company of “Rock of Ages.”

He also played the Emcee in the off-Broadway and Broadway productions of “Once.”

Zygo first played Robbie at The Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Ill., and on a tour for Prather Entertainment Group.

It's a role he's eager to return to.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” he says. “I am so grateful to get to look at the show with fresh eyes.

“Robbie is a great character. ... He is a hopeless romantic and attempts to see the best in people. He is a kind soul,” Zygo says. “The (show's) music is a good outlet for his feelings.”

The musical opened on Broadway in 2006 with lyrics by lyrics Chad Beguelin and a book by Tim Herlihy — the same man who wrote the original film.

It had a completely new score written by Beguelin and composer Matthew Skylar.

The script contains lots of period references, and the score draws on music styles of the period with rhythms that range from pop ballads to rap to rock.

“One is based on ‘Love Potion Number 9,' and the opening number is a rock song based on ‘Pachibel's Canon,' ” Zygo says.“It's music you want to hear.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808, or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

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