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Real-life wedding singers on center stage

BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@miamiherald.com

OlivaAfter The Wedding Singer opened in New York in 2006, real-life South Florida wedding singer Drew T couldn't contain himself. He had to see the Broadway musical.

''I loved it. And the kids love it. It has universal appeal,'' said Andrew ''Drew'' Tabatchnick of Weston, who since college in 1979 has performed as Drew T at thousands of weddings, bar mitzvahs and other celebrations.

'I am the wedding singer. And everyone says, `Really?' They think that's so cool,'' said Tabatchnick, who'll take his own kids to see The Wedding Singer touring production that opens Wednesday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.

''As a wedding singer, we're dealing with people at the most joyous time in their lives,'' he said. ``As opposed to being a divorce attorney who's dealing with tragedy and tsuris.''

Tabatchnick is one of several prominent South Florida wedding singers. Carlos Oliva, who began his career in nightclubs and producing albums for Miami Sound Machine, is another.

''I like the fact that people hire me for a wedding,'' Oliva said. ``They hire me knowing they're going to have fun.''

The Wedding Singer musical ran eight months in New York. Based on Adam Sandler's 1998 hit movie co-starring Drew Barrymore, the show is about Robbie Hart, an '80s rock musician who finds happiness performing at other people's special days.

''He's very content doing what he loves and he doesn't need the fame or the money,'' said actor Merritt David Janes, who plays Robbie in the touring company. ``The challenge for any performer is to reach your audience. Whoever your audience is, you have to find a way to identify with them and entertain them.''

In multicultural South Florida, that's a challenge, said Tabatchnick, whose repertoire ranges ``from Justin Timberlake to society music.''

MIXED CROWD

''You need to have an ensemble that's large enough to have a full range,'' he said. ``I have Latin singers in the band. I do that. Whether its Hasidic or Sephardic or country, that's what's fun about it. You have to learn different material.''

Oliva, whose band is called Los Sobrinos del Juez (The Judge's Nephews), plays ``a lot of Latin weddings and bilingual weddings.''

He made the transition from nightclubs to weddings in 1980 and his band gets paid ''under $10,000'' per reception.

South Florida partygoers enjoy it when Oliva sings English-language songs such as Love the One You're With and Rock With You to a Latin beat. ''The American people recognize the songs and the Latin people love it,'' he said.

Oliva sings today's music ''up to a point.'' No rap or Reggaeton, he said.

Tabatchnick stays current by following Billboard.

''I Will Survive, The Macarena, believe it or not, no one asks for it anymore,'' he said. ``We don't play those trite things any more. We do new stuff.''

Sunrise, Sunset from Fiddler on the Roof is out, too.

Drew T used to sing lots of KC & the Sunshine Band, Billy Joel and Madonna. Now, it's Beyoncé, Usher and Fergie.

But what goes around, comes around. Tabatchnick's orchestra is working on a '60s and '70s medley from the current hit Frankie Valli-inspired Broadway musical, Jersey Boys. ''We start with Sherry and end with Oh, What a Night,'' Tabatchnick said.

KEEPING BUSY

Tabatchnick plays up to 10 weddings a month. The joy of being a wedding singer, he said: ``Part of it is your ego, getting it stroked. But part of it is making them happy. You put on a new suit and you feel like a million dollars.''

Not quite, but families pay up to $15,000 to hire Tabatchnick's orchestra.

''You're getting all the generations together to tumult and have a good time. That's what's fun about it,'' he said. ``When you see The Wedding Singer show, you walk away with that same feeling, having a good time.''

A great wedding singer is the most important thing at the party, according to South Florida events planner Barton Weiss, better known as Barton G.

''That's probably the single hardest element. It's what people stress the most about,'' Weiss said. ``Music is like food. Everyone's taste is different. The time, the pulse, how to read them. To know when -- and when not -- to sing Hava Nagila.

''It's all about taste and what kind of style and how to keep the party going,'' said Weiss, who works with only about 10 local wedding singers, including Tabatchnick and Oliva. ``If the band doesn't keep the energy and build to the climax, forget about it.''

Photo by HECTOR GABINO / EL NUEVO HERALD STAFF
South Florida wedding singer Carlos Oliva likes to give English-language songs a Latin beat. 'The American people recognize the songs and the Latin people love it,' he says.

» More Photos

IF YOU GO

  • What: The Wedding Singer
  • Where: Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale.
  • When: Wednesday-Oct. 14, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with additional performances 2 p.m. Oct. 3 and 8 p.m. Oct. 9.
  • Cost: $21-$65 plus handling and service charges. Purchase tickets at box office or Ticketmaster, 954-523-3309 in Broward, 305-358-5885 in Dade and 561-966-3309 in Palm Beach; www.ticketmas ter.com. Order for groups of 20 or more by calling 954-462-0222 or 800-6GROUPS (647-6877).
  • Info: 954-462-0222 or www.browardcenter.org

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