ERIE, Pa. (AP) —Mary Benjamin was feeling giddy.
In a matter of minutes, she’d be face-to-face with The Wonders — or at least, the actors who portrayed the fictional rock band from the 1996 film “That Thing You Do!”
Sporting a Wonders T-shirt and carrying a handful of posters and pens, Benjamin, 34, admitted she was only 10 years old when the movie hit the big screen.
Nonetheless, she’s remained “obsessed” by it.
So much so that when the Erie Seawolves hosted a Wonders 25-year reunion on a recent Saturday at UPMC Park, she traveled more than seven hours from the Hudson Valley area, north of New York City, to attend.
“There really is a whole fandom to this movie,” Benjamin said. “It’s about the music. The fun. The hope.”
It’s also about Erie.
While 25 years have passed since The Wonders “rode the Billboard charts,” Erie residents still consider the band — which, in the movie, hailed from Erie — a beloved part of the city’s pop culture history.
“The fans in Erie have embraced (the film) as their own and that’s something that never really happened in my career,” said Tom Everett Scott, who portrayed the band’s drummer Guy ‘Shades’ Patterson.
“This was also my first movie. I was 25 years old. And Tom Hanks, my idol, who was directing, picked me out of a crowd of actors. So anything else that’s happened afterward has been icing on the cake. And coming to Erie is a very special icing.”
Steve Zahn, who portrayed Leonard ‘Lenny’ Haise, the band’s lead guitarist, agreed, saying the lasting fan support from Erie is a true testament to the movie’s quality.
“Success at the box office is not a good example of how to determine a hit, it’s really longevity,” he said. “I’ve done movies that were hits but nothing like this. This wasn’t a hit. We didn’t make an exorbitant amount of money. But it’s a hit because it’s lasted over time.”
“That Thing You Do!,” which tells the story of four young men in 1964 who form a band and achieve success on the back of a catchy tune — the movie’s namesake — wasn’t filmed in Erie but rather in the town of Orange, California, which was converted to look like a 60s-era Erie.
Johnathon Schaech, who portrayed lead singer James “Jimmy” Mattingly II, said Erie was more symbolic, the “essence of a small town” that people could relate to.
“Erie has always represented ‘my small town,’ and the movie is about pursuing a dream that takes you away,” he said. “There comes a day in everyone’s life where the dream that you dream becomes ‘that thing you do.’”
Ethan Embry, who portrayed “T.B. Player,” the band’s bass player, could not attend Saturday’s reunion due to health and safety protocols associated with a television series he’s filming.
Embry did appear via Zoom, however, during the reunion’s panel discussion, in which he expressed his gratitude to the fans.
The panel discussion, led by SeaWolves broadcaster Greg Gania before a crowd of roughly 100 fans, involved several questions, mostly from Twitter fans, asking about Tom Hanks; keepsakes taken from the movie set; fan encounters; and casting and rehearsal anecdotes.
Zahn talked about improvisation and how his quip during a card game scene — “You got to be quick with me. I’m from Erie, Pa.” — was improvised on the spot.
Scott said he was sent “boxes of VHS tapes” about Erie shortly after he was cast that included old commercials and news from WJET-TV, a memory that drew cheers and laughs from the crowd.
Following the discussion, the actors participated in a meet-and-greet with the fans and later threw out the first pitch of the SeaWolves game.
The SeaWolves wore custom Wonders jerseys that were auctioned online. Proceeds from the auction went toward NoticeAbility, a nonprofit dedicated to helping students with dyslexia identify their unique strengths and build self-esteem.
Gania said roughly 3,500 tickets were pre-sold for the reunion, rivaling Fourth of July ticket sales.
After the game, attendees watched a screening of “That Thing You Do!” on the UPMC Park video board from the outfield grass.
For fans of the film, the experience was a night to remember.
“I really was drawn to the idea of having a dream, how quickly it can happen and how quickly it can go away,” said Jimmy Boyce, a self-described “superfan” of the film from Chicago. “It’s a metaphor for life. You got to grab those moments when they’re there because there isn’t a guarantee that they will still be there later.”
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