New York actors Jillian Nyhan and Michael Zygo have no trouble convincing audiences that they are in love onstage in "The Wedding Singer" night after night because, well, it happened in real life. The two, who met in college as eager teen thespians, have performed professionally in about 40 shows together, three of them opposite each other as a couple. About five years ago when he was cast as high-steppin' cowboy Will Parker to her Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!," they decided to tie the knot themselves.
"We had known each other for so long that it seemed like the next logical step," says Zygo, who conspired with Nyhan's father and surprised her backstage with a ring after one performance. "It was the only time I've ever seen Jill speechless. And if you know her, that's saying a lot."
Adds Nyhan: "We have such chemistry together that it shows onstage. I like working opposite someone I know so well. It is 100 percent trust. It usually takes time to build a relationship onstage. We have ours built-in."
Wichitans can see for themselves when the two bring the national tour of "The Wedding Singer" to Century II Tuesday and Wednesday for Theater League. The musical, based on the 1998 romantic comedy of the same name with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore, is a gaudy celebration of 1980s pop culture with music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin and book by Beguelin and Tim Hurlihy.
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"It's everything you wanted to remember — or forget — about the 1980s: big hair, crazy colors, mullets," Zygo says. "Jill and I were both born in 1979, so we didn't actually live it firsthand. But I remember the music of the period, such as Bon Jovi and Heart."
Zygo, who grew up in western New York, plays Robbie, a wannabe rock star who actually makes his living as New Jersey's favorite wedding singer — until he is left at the altar himself. Brokenhearted, he takes his bitterness onstage, making every wedding a disaster until he meets a pretty waitress named Julia (played by Nyhan) and finds a new reason to love. Trouble is, she is engaged to a Wall Street broker. Unless he can pull off the performance of his life, the girl of his dreams will disappear.
"Robbie is easy to play because he is so much like me," Zygo says. "He's an eternal optimist. He writes music, as do I. He's pretty driven. He's got great friends to help him through. He's overall a happy guy. I have to try to find differences between us so I can keep him a character."
Nyhan, from the Saratoga region in upstate New York, admits she has some things in common with her character Julia.
"She is a hopeless romantic. She is in love with being in love. But she is a little bit quiet, which doesn't fit me. I have more sass. My friends describe me as 'sugar and spice and everything New York,' " Nyhan says with a laugh. "If I had any advice for Julia, I'd tell her to sass it up a little more."
Despite liking to work together, the two do have separate careers and have performed apart. She's done Fanny Brice in "Funny Girl" and Sister Amnesia in "Nunsense" without him. He's been Huck Finn in "Big River" and the slithery Emcee of "Cabaret" without her.
After they finish this tour of "The Wedding Singer" in March, however, they have already secured a summer stock gig in New York that will keep them together for "Showboat," "Smokey Joe's Cafe" and "Pump Boys and Dinettes."
Any serious downsides to working with a spouse?
"It's actually like therapy when our characters have a fight. We can get our own frustrations out on stage," Zygo says.
Adds Nyhan: "When you work together and live together you can fall into a 24/7 rut. You need some 'me' time apart. I have lunch with the girls every day and he has nights out with the boys. That keeps the mix just right."
If you go
'the wedding singer'
What: Broadway musical national tour, sponsored by Theater League
Where: Century II Concert Hall
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday
How much: Tickets: $49-$40; available through WichitaTix box office, at 316-219-4849 or www.theaterleague.com