Since Daily Intel posted the video of Jill Peterson and Kevin Heinz’s Minnesota wedding dance party on Friday, a number of commenters have remained unmoved, one calling it “nerdy amateur hour.” And the couple’s appearances on the Today show basically assures that within weeks, half of America’s engaged douches will be planning their own YouTube-ready routines.
But I don’t care. I didn’t think I’d love it, but I do — not just as a wedding but as a superbly directed bit of musical theater. In fact, since Kevin posted the video last week, his wedding day has grabbed over 8 million views — that’s already a greater number than the total tickets sold on Broadway this year, or the audience for an average episode of So You Think You Can Dance. Thus, it’s fair to say that Kevin’s wedding day is the most-watched musical-theater number of the entire year.
The trained singers, actors, and hoofers of the Great White Way might view it as an insult that a New York theater critic is calling some rubes in Minnesota dancing around in checkered shirts and bridesmaids’ dresses a musical-theater number at all. They’d be even more annoyed to hear me call it the best one I’ve seen all year.
For what is a wedding, really, but the only play that most people will ever have the chance to direct? Just once in your life, you have a beautiful theater, a captive and receptive audience, and a trusted cast at your disposal. Thanks to your parents, you might even have a bigger budget than the typical Off–Off Broadway show. And, as in any theatrical performance, you’re bringing together an audience in order to tell them a story — in this case, the story of you, and your relationship.
The best weddings have a firm directorial hand at the helm and a singular focus on the story being told. It’s the director — the bride, the groom, both of them, her mom — who makes sure the readers are loud enough, the music appropriately hip (or square), the vows just so. It’s for those weddings that the rehearsal is not just a chance to hang out before dinner — it’s a real rehearsal, tech week jammed into one hectic hour. And the results can be tremendously moving, though rarely for anyone who isn’t already close to the bride and groom.
That’s why the Peterson-Heinz dance party video is so surprising: It’s delightful even to the 99.9999 percent of Americans who’ve never met these two Minnesotans, because the story it tells is so universal.
And it’s delightful despite seeming, at first, like a haphazard stunt. (I even found myself thinking: Improv Everywhere would do it better.) So many bridesmaids and groomsmen! So many divergent dancing styles — some graceful, some blithely clumsy, some clubby, some ostentatious, some reserved — made me worry at first that this was a poorly-planned lark Jill and Kevin would be shaking their heads over five years from now.
But about halfway through it becomes clear that there’s a vision behind this number, as the entire wedding party, already having come down the aisle once, reappears as if by magic at the church’s entrance, and dances in unison, their varying skills combining into something new and surprising, a group embrace, until they part to reveal the groom somersaulting into view.
He adjusts his tie and leads his friends to the front of the church, and coincidentally it’s at that moment that the camera pans far enough for us to realize the enormity of the theater in which this performance is taking place. Soon the entire party is moving in slow motion at the head of the church, a striking tableau, and then the bride, beaming, bouquet in hand, boogies down the aisle — doing a more subdued version of the music-video moves everyone’s been performing — and as the music fades, she and her husband-to-be link arms and slowly step, step, step in perfect unison to the altar.
That all this dancing is happening at a wedding — the only place we grown-ups ever get around to dancing anymore — adds to the performance’s piquancy. The story it tells is not just the story of Jill and Kevin — though obviously it’s their story too — but of the joy that every bride and groom (or bride and bride) (or groom and groom) has felt as they walked down the aisle. The audience — in the church, and 8 million strong and counting out in the world — feels it. Intentionally or not, as a piece of theater, Jill and Kevin’s big musical number is courtship in microcosm: wildness and improvisation giving way over the course of time to steady, comfortable companionship. A crowd of friends are there to back them up. Out of the storm of many, two.