'Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding' is on again, and you're invited
You know when two crazy Italian- American families are thrown together for a wedding, you're gonna run into a few guys named Tony. There's always a Tony at these things, right?
That's certainly the case at the new revival of "Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding," a standard-bearer of interactive theater, in which audience members can play family and friends of the bride and groom -- and get dragged from church pews through city streets to a reception with DJ and buffet tables. The new production, opening tomorrow, starts with a wedding in Hell's Kitchen (at the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School), then moves on to a reception at Guy's American Kitchen & Bar.
The original show, dreamed up by two Hofstra University students who were the first Tony and Tina-- Mark Nasser and Nancy Cassaro -- began with occasional performances in 1985. A commercial production launched in 1988 and ran for 20 years, first in Greenwich Village, then Times Square.
Now it's back, updated for the digital age by director Tony Lauria. (Whaddya know, another Tony.) The hairstyles and pop culture references may have changed, but it's still a show that revels in breaking the rules.
Like that one about no cellphone use in the theater? Fuhgeddaboudit.
We caught up with not one, but three Tonys involved in the show to find out what's the secret in this sauce -- a show many New Yorkers love to poke fun at ... but which remains one of Off-Broadway's longest-running hits.
THE REAL TONY
Before directing, Lauria, a Dix Hills native, performed in the original production -- as Tina's ex, Tony's best man, and the wedding singer. Redeveloping the show for a new generation he calls "a total labor of love."
The original owed a huge debt to "Saturday Night Fever," he recalls. But the Tony and Tina of today have new cultural touchstones: "Mob Wives," and the "Real Housewives of Anywhere."
"It's a different world we live in, and people have a new understanding of what it's like to be Italian," he says.
That'll be good news to those who worried that the original relied too much on offensive stereotypes.
"The characters reflect a sample of a passionate ethnicity with all of their idiosyncrasies," Lauria explains. "The old Italian stereotypes are not represented in this show. They're no longer relevant."
Digital -- that's relevant, and audience members are encouraged to post photos to Twitter and Instagram.
"When you go to a wedding, you go to have a good time," he says. "It's a party. This play is just that -- with a Romeo and Juliet love story thrown in."
THE CURRENT TONY
Tell us some stories about growing up Italian. It's not every audition where you get asked that. Luckily, Joe Ferraro, 25, had stories.
The Smithtown native launched into a tale of his grandparents making lasagna on Christmas Eve, details of which have something to do with forgetting to add olive oil, and noodles ripping -- the remnants then sailing across the kitchen as his grandfather tossed them in frustration.
The story, and Ferraro's charismatic delivery, sealed the deal, and he was the first cast in this new production -- as Tony, the nervous young groom from the Bronx.
Once the rest of the cast was picked, the actors rehearsed together, ate together -- even took field trips to the Bronx to get a sense of the Belmont section where their characters come from. They picked out houses, developed back stories. That authenticity may be key.
"Audiences come to this show and see ... what looks like two families," says Ferraro. "We've come to believe it so much I think they wind up believing it, too."
THE FORMER TONY
When Rick Pasqualone played Tony -- from 1990 to 1991 -- he was 24, single and, like his character, full of dreams.
"It was my first big show," he recalls.
The Chaminade grad was still living in his native Albertson and commuting into the city for performances.
Now Pasqualone, 48, lives in Los Angeles, has two kids and has built a career in television and film.
This time, he plays Tony's dad, Nunzio -- but a Nunzio far different from the old, gruff original.
"My Nunzio still goes to the gym and tanning salon," he jokes.
And if you think Nunzio's maybe got a little sump'm-sump'm going on with Tina's mom, well, you might be right. As an audience member, you're expected to eat, dance, laugh -- and stay alert.
"We make them cousins, uncles, old family friends -- we include them," he says.
"You engage someone in conversation, and at first they hang back, but then you see this light of recognition -- 'Oh, I can be Aunt Rosie' -- and you realize, 'Yeah, they got it.'"
Not into participating? That's cool. You can just hang, observe and hit the buffet for seconds.
"This is a living, breathing show, and people bring so much of themselves to it," says Pasqualone. "That's what makes it magical."
Other immersive or interactive theater
Immersive or interactive theater is nothing new. And these days there's plenty to choose from.
Sleep No More Audience members follow actors through five floors and endless rooms of the fictional McKittrick Hotel, watching a mysterious "Macbeth"-like tale; sleepnomorenyc.com
Here Lies Love The loves (and shoes) of Imelda Marcos come to life in this original musical from David Byrne and Fatboy Slim being revived at The Public, on platforms moving among audience members; herelieslove.com
Speakeasy Dollhouse -- A Jazz Age mobster tale (where audience members dress in period garb and gab with actors) and now a second show, "The Brothers Booth," about John Wilkes Booth, his famed actor bro, Edwin, and -- look -- Mark Twain; speakeasydollhouse.com
Fuerza Bruta You stand while a sexy brew of dance, lights and Argentine aerialists erupts above and around you -- returning to the Daryl Roth Theatre starting June 17; fuerzabrutanyc.com
Clown Bar Just your typical Lower East Side murder mystery cabaret performed by clown mobsters, strippers-- and you ... in a big, red nose. The 2013 production returns starting May 10; pipelinetheatre.org
Accomplice New York An elaborate murder mystery scavenger hunt on city streets, designed for groups of 10; accomplicetheshow.com