Andrea Baritis can still recall the first time she saw her “family” on the big screen in August 2002.
Baritis was at a local theater with her youth group from St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in West Babylon for a viewing of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Baritis was 16 at the time and vaguely familiar with the film’s plot.
A sleeper success, the romantic comedy follows Fortoula “Toula” Portokalos, a Greek-American woman played by Nia Vardalos who falls in love with a “non-Greek” named Ian Miller, portrayed by John Corbett. Toula spends the duration of the flick struggling to meet the very-Greek expectations of her overly intrusive family while staying true to herself.
The unorthodox family dynamic presented on screen may have spelled trouble for Toula, but it made the film a smash among the Greek community on Long Island and beyond, many of whom were all too familiar with the squabbles and laughs in the plot.
“There are aspects of the film that are a little exaggerated but it adds to the humor,” says Baritis, 30. “The main idea was the importance of family and it was an accurate portrayal of Greek culture.”
AN EARLY LOOK
On March 24, Baritis will attend a reunion of sorts at the Bellmore Playhouse for a screening of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” before it opens widely in theaters the next day. Vardalos, who wrote the original script and sequel, and Corbett are reprising their roles.
The film likely will ring even more true to Baritis this time around. She’s also marrying a “non-Greek” at the West Babylon church in October.
The Rev. Demetrios Kazakis, of St. Nicholas church, says Baritis and her 39-year-old fiancé, Fernando Agramonte, are far from the first “mixed marriage” among his congregation. “In my church, that’s like 90 percent of our marriages,” says Kazakis, 31.
He opened the viewing party to the public, and, so far, parishioners from Greek churches in Port Washington, Wantagh, Blue Point and Hempstead are coming. It was during a similar gathering that Kazakis saw the first film in Syracuse with his mother.
“When the movie came out, only independent, small theaters were taking it,” Kazakis says. “We saw it with 75 other people from our church.”
Kazakis said his mother laughed so hard that she fell out of her chair and into the aisle. He hopes the sequel will foster the same sense of community on Long Island, especially because part of the motivation for the event is to raise funds for St. Nicholas, which incurred millions of dollars in damages during a fire in July.
Although he hasn’t seen the sequel, Kazakis says he is aware that aside from marriage, two major themes in the latest take are faith and family.
“The family as a unit is extremely connected and loving and supportive,” Kazakis says. “Any challenge that is presented to them, they overcome. That speaks volumes to our parish and to our families as well.”
A CULTURE ON SCREEN
Marcelle Wheeler, 43, of Mastic, is the choir director and youth adviser at St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church in Blue Point. She plans to attend the screening with her husband and three teenage sons.
“By the way the movie is run, my husband is an outsider,” says Wheeler, whose husband is Italian, Irish, German and English. But he has embraced the Greek culture and customs as his own — just like the handsome schoolteacher Toula married in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”
Baritis, Kazakis and Wheeler all believe that you need not be Greek — or relate to all of the humorous stereotypes like using Windex as a cure-all, a la Toula’s father — in order to enjoy the sequel.
Baritis just looks forward to seeing her family in the on-screen characters again. Says Baritis, “I hope that the portrayal of the Greek family is the same as it was in the first movie — as being close-knit and accepting of other cultures.”
CHATTING WITH TOULA’S MOM
Lainie Kazan stars as Maria Portokalos, the mother of protagonist Fortoula “Toula” Portokalos.
Kazan, 75, lives in Los Angeles where she says she is often approached by fans who recognize her as the spunky and warm mother of the bride. Kazan says the film was an international success because it spoke to everyone. The sequel focuses on more than just family and marriage, she says. It also touches on the importance of honesty and faithfulness.
“It’s a simple, simple story but complex at the same time,” Kazan says.
As for what fans can expect from the sequel, Kazan says Maria Portokalos won’t spare the spunk.
“My character evolves into a woman who wants what she wants when she wants it,” Kazan says. “I’ve evolved into this person after all these years.”
A film, television and stage star, Kazan is a graduate of Hofstra University who got her start as a cabaret singer. On April 3, she will share the stage at Queensborough Performing Arts Center with comedian Dick Capri.
INFO Tickets to the 3 p.m. show are $42-$48, 718-631-6311, www.qcc.cuny.edu/qpac