Sklar and Beguelin: 'We wanted to give The Wedding Singer fans what they wanted'

We chat to the writing team behind ”Elf the Musical” and ”The Wedding Singer” about working together for so long, and adapting films for the stage

Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (lyrics)
Matthew Sklar and Chad Beguelin (lyrics)
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Chad Beguelin and Matthew Sklar have been a writing duo for over two decades. Musicals they've written together include Elf, The Prom and The Wedding Singer, which was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2006. We caught up with the pair just after they landed in Leicester in preparation for the start of The Wedding Singer UK tour.

How did you first start working together?

MS: I was an undergrad at New York University and a literary manager of a theatre saw a show that I worked on. He’d just read something Chad had written, and approached the two of us because he thought we’d be a good match to write together. We met up a week later, and have been writing together ever since. That was about 23 years ago.

CB: The literary manager said to us "we have a slot open in three months for a staged reading". If we could put together a show from scratch in three months, then we could have the slot. That’s when we realised we worked together so well.

Do you ever get on each other's nerves when you're working together?

CB: The good thing about our collaboration is that we’ve had a lot of therapy. [laughs] We’ve got into fights maybe twice over something tiny and they lasted about 15 minutes tops.

MS: I was wrong, and I know I was wrong.

What were they about?

MS: We had one little tiff during Elf about a joke that I just didn’t think would work. But of course, it worked. I buried my head in the sand and every time I see the show I’m like "yep, I was wrong".

How did The Wedding Singer come about? Are you fans of the film?

CB: Absolutely. I was pitching a film to New Line [the film's production company] and they asked me "what would you do with our catalogue?" Well, I thought The Wedding Singer was born to sing.

MS: We’re also both children of the '80s. That music and sound was really a part of our childhood and the soundtrack to our time in high school. That really helped with the language of the score.

What was it like working with the film’s writer Tim Herlihy?

CB: Well, Tim’s a monster. [laughs] What amazed me was how open he was to changes. He wasn’t married at all to the movie. If you get into previews on Broadway and if the audience aren’t laughing, then you need to write 15 new jokes. Well Tim was a head writer on Saturday Night Live for so many years, and he’s an absolute joke machine.

MS: I remember the first meeting with him and being really nervous. But within five minutes we were all laughing and knew we were going to leave that meeting saying "let’s do this". It’s lovely to reconnect with him on this trip.

How do you go about adapting a film for the stage?

CB: For something as well known as The Wedding Singer, you want to make sure you give the fans of the movie what they want. You want to give them the moments everybody remembers, but you also have to open it up to the musical. What you can convey with a close-up in a movie, you can’t do in a musical. That’s what the songs are for in a musical. In the movie, you get a close-up of Drew Barrymore looking distraught at a her reflection in a wedding dress, but you can’t do that on stage. That’s where you write a song.

Jon Robyns as Robbie in The Wedding Singer
Jon Robyns as Robbie in The Wedding Singer
© Darren Bell

Are there any stories you’re dying to bring to the stage?

CB: We talk about that all the time. There a couple of things in the pipeline. It’s amazing how it’s really tough to find the material. It’s got to be innately musical or at least make sense that the characters would sing. It’s the holy grail to find something with that property. It has to have characters you can relate to.

MS: I always enjoy a 'fish out of water' story. Somebody who doesn’t belong or changes the lives of the people around them. I like a musical that starts with a lot of problem, but ends with a lot of hope and joy.

When was the last time you sat through The Wedding Singer?

MS: It’s been a long time.

CB: I’m from a small town in Illinois, and I actually saw my community theatre production while I was home. It was really enjoyable. It’s touching that they might not have this huge set, but they bring so much heart to it. It’s really amazing.

Click here to read our review of The Wedding Singer

The Wedding Singer runs at Curve, Leicester until 18 February, and then tours the UK.