You are seated in Vinnie Black’s Chapel of Love. It is precisely as tacky as it sounds. The Wedding March begins, and you look over your shoulder. The wedding party is coming down the aisle: a sassy grandma, a flamboyant go-go boy, a slightly goofy Southern priest, a nerdy sci-fi/fantasy girl, a pissed-off pregnant bridesmaid, and a lineup of frat-boy groomsmen who drunkenly rode up in the back of a pickup truck only moments ago.
Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is not a play, and you are not an audience member. This is not theater as you know it.
Who in their right mind would attempt to throw a patron into a staged Italian wedding, complete with vows, receiving line, full Italian dinner, dance floor, musical numbers, and Jerry Springer-inspired family brawls?
Luckily, for the citizens of the Triangle, director/actor James Ilsley is something of a mad genius.
This, dearly beloved, is Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding, an interactive wine-and-dine event in which a cast of 25 well-trained comic improvisers stages a wedding ceremony and subsequent reception, not for you, not merely around you, but with you.
But you mustn’t be shy while you eat your penne marinara. A drunken groomsman may share his deepest secrets with you. You may even be asked to dance by a beautiful bridesmaid — or her grandmother.
Your hosts for the evening are Vinnie Black, the Cadillac of caterers (Bill Andrews) and DJ Donnie Dulce (Kevin Roberge, who also produces). With Las-Vegas-y sleeze and oily charm, these two keep the reception on track while fist fights, lap dances, and makeout sessions threaten to derail the festivities.
The not-so-happy couple, Tony (Brett Yates) and Tina (Lauren Tompkins), are surrounded by their dysfunctional family, and so are you. While you mingle with other guests, sipping Moscato and nibbling on wedding cake, you just might pass by a pissed-off pregnant bridesmaid (Alexandra.Finazzo) slapping her bumbling boyfriend (Dennis Cox); or the bride’s bubbly aunt (Romni Rossi) might single you out as her chicken-dance partner.
Perhaps, the mother of the bride (Alison Lawrence) will introduce you to her husband — God rest his soul — or you could confess your sins to Father Mark (Brian Westbrook), before he downs another beer. Maybe you’d prefer to step outside for a cigarette with the flamboyant brother of the bride (James Ilsley), if you can get him down off the table. If you love cats and Harry Potter, try to pick up a shy bridesmaid (Jess Barbour). But remember, while you’re ordering a cocktail at the cash bar, don’t buy anything for the bride’s ex-boyfriend (Nicholas Sheets), who is likely to deliver a Brooklyn uppercut to the groom’s jaw.
With very little scripted dialogue, and only a loose structure provided by the authors, it is up to a brave and insane director such as James Ilsley, who has years of experience with this specific material, to assemble a superior group of comedic talents and prepare them for everything and anything that might happen. Each night is different — one never knows what the guests or the cast might do at any given moment — which is what makes this event so thrilling.
After a blockbuster 22-year run Off Broadway, Tony and Tina continue to recite their vows in cities all over the world. We can hope that this particular company takes the show on the road and serves meatballs and mayhem to other cities in North Carolina, since its inaugural run is proving so successful.
With one weekend under its belt, the Raleigh edition of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding has one more to go. This is discount weekend and the tickets are going to go quickly, so grab tickets for yourself and your friends for an event that makes professional dinner theater look like an elementary school Christmas pageant.
Why sit through an expensive dinner and sleep through an overpriced movie when you could head to the Cypress Manor at Cary and do dinner and a show for a much better value? Weather has been atrocious, the political climate is a nightmare, and we could all use a well-earned escape. It is well worth the ticket price, and you’ll no doubt leave the theater feeling Happily Ever After.
The whole event runs approximately three hours, and is in the PG-13 zone. Find all the details about your night out by visiting http://tonyandtinaraleigh.com/about-the-show.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 22nd Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle: http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/01/tony-n-tinas-wedding-is-a-marvelous-interactive-improvisational-entertainment-at-cypress-manor/.
TONY N’ TINA’S WEDDING is presented at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 and 28 and 5 p.m. Jan. 29 at Cypress Manor at Cary, 1040 Buck Jones Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27606.
BOX OFFICE: 414-339-1289, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://tonyandtinaraleigh.bpt.me/.
SHOW: http://tonyandtinaraleigh.com/, http://tonyandtinaraleigh.bpt.me/, and http://www.cypressmanoratcary.com/tony-n-tina-wedding-theatre.
PRESENTER: https://www.facebook.com/piratestage/ and https://www.facebook.com/tonyntinaraleigh/.
Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (1985 New York City and 1988 Off-Broadway interactive environmental comedy): http://tonylovestina.com/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/1436 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tony_n’_Tina’s_Wedding (Wikipedia).
Dustin K. Britt is a Triangle native, holds a master’s degree in special education from East Carolina University, and teaches locally. He can be spotted all over the Triangle area either painting scenery or chewing on it. He has received local theater award nominations for doing both. He is a devoted cinephile and author of Hold the Popcorn, a movie blog on Facebook. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment He can also be found via his official Facebook page and on Twitter @dkbritt85.