Whatever you choose to call the show, one thing is certain, the audience was primed for a good time before they even got to their seats for its recent local staging. Outside the doors of the Earl Turner Theatre, located in Harrah's New Orleans Casino, tuxedoed gents and gown-clad ladies traded remarks with the public, while a professional photographer fired away at one and all.
Unfortunately, I've got some strikes against me when it comes to audience participation, which is a crucial part of the event. I'm long enough in the tooth to have endured the '60s. I lurked amid the crowd at "happenings" and other new and exciting theatrical events of that sort. My favorite happening was one in which nothing happened -- until two dogs walked onto what seemed to be the "stage" (that is to say the piece of lawn we were all staring at). These dogs started feeling amorous, the male dog at any rate. His performance was impeccable. John Cage could not have come up with a funnier happening and the humor did depend largely on the presence of the audience, who stood gawking at the miraculous display of canine vitality.
I suppose, with some reservations, one could say a wedding embodies some of the same low humor, for behind all the pious talk and tears lurks the honeymoon. And since the dawn of time, or at least since the Roman Empire, there has been an under current of raunchy jokes at nuptials. Is that why Tony and Tina are Italian? Possibly, but I doubt it. A more convincing connection is the boardwalk at Coney Island, where guys in muscle shirts and DA haircuts sold scungilli and flirted with "the local talent."
Now, Tony N' Tina's Wedding was not the first theatrical marriage ceremony we've had in the area. I've already attended several, most recently The Altos, a pretty wild affair put on by Shine Productions at Rocky and Carlo's restaurant on St. Bernard Highway. That wedding was a family affair in all senses of the word, including a sense that might cause acid reflux in members of the Italian-American Anti-Defamation League (if there is such a thing).
At Harrah's, the audience sat at tables and was served champagne and wedding cake. We also conga-ed up to a buffet and loaded our dishes with lasagna, cauliflower and other delectables. Or maybe, I'm confusing my conga lines. Blame it on the Merlot. We did dance many dances. The Chicken, the Macarena, even one indescribable number in which we passed a giant, inflatable banana that we held between our legs -- this resulted in some odd moments between strangers. Once again, blame it on the Merlot.
There is really no way to give a recap of the story. Anyway, you've all been to weddings. The key to entertainment of this type is for the cast to overdo it, but not overdo it too much. At Harrah's, the cast walked this fine line of comic exaggeration with a great deal of poise and an enormous sense of fun. I was seated just behind the mother of the bride, a lady of ample proportions who made vituperative comments under her breath about all and sundry, particularly the groom's family. In the program, she is listed as Josephine Vitale. However, that's the name of the character. Just as the Nunzios (the groom's family) are listed as Nunzios. This somewhat murky situation reinforces the make-believe, but puts a critic in the awkward situation of praising characters rather than actors who played them. But, hats off to both families, to their friends, to the priest, to the hired help and to Fusion, the three-piece band, as well as to cool Donny Dulce, vocalist and DJ.
The "conceiver" of this event (which is, according to a Web site, the longest running show in off-Broadway history) was Nancy Cassaro. The director was Kevin Alexander. If you like broad humor, silliness, dance and song (and lasagna), this may have been just the show for you, a theme park ride to the tune of "That's Amore."