Theatre

It's been nearly eight years since that loud, boisterous Italian nuptial celebration has left Chicago, but now "Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is back. Reworked from its 1993 through 2009 run at Piper's Alley, the wedding actually takes place at a church. The Resurrection Church, located near Belmont and Sheffield, is the perfect setting for Tony Nunzio and Tina Vitale to exchange vows with the action starting before you even enter the building. "Family members" approach “guests” as though old friends playing up the overdone Italian stereo types creating a mix of characters ranging from Rocky Balboa and gang to the housewives found in Goodfellas or Casino. A cheesy, gum-chewing wedding photographer snaps shots as guests enter the church who are then ushered to their seats. Before the wedding begins the Nunzio and Vitale clan interact with the audience and each other, already planting a very funny seed for what is to come. 

 

An abbreviated wedding then takes place complete with bridesmaids and groomsmen waltzing down the isle that is officially kicked off when Sister Albert Maria (Alisha Fabbi) leads the congregation into a soulful version of "Jesus Is Just Alright". The wedding in itself could be a show of its own with everything from the bride's ex showing up to a priest who is more than a bit overboard with his Mr. Rogers-like analogies. 

 

The "I dos" are said and the crowd is ushered out of the church for a quick block and a half walk to Chicago Theatre Works, or in this case, "Vinnie Black's Coliseum" for a reception one would be pressed to forget. As the brief trek to the restaurant is made, cast members stay in character mingling with guests, drawing them into hilarious conversations. 

 

Already a highly entertaining and unique experience, the fun really goes into high gear at the reception where guests are assigned to round dining tables, the wedding party seated center room for all to see. Family members are constantly popping by, drawing attendees into humorous conversations as though we go way back with them. All the ingredients are in place for hilarious wedding celebration to remember. There's the ditzy stripper, a drunken father, a surly mother, a priest who drinks too much, a smarmy wedding singer, a jealous ex-boyfriend, an over-the-top restaurant owner who acts as the evening's emcee. Fights break out between families, grandma is mistakenly deemed dead after falling down and guests join in with the cast for a crazy night of dancing that includes a conga line. Before long one almost forgets they are at a play.

 

Mitchell Conti is perfectly cast as Tony as is Hannah Aaron Brown as Tina, so many funny moments exchanged by the two along with other family members and wedding "guests" (us). The cast does a great job at getting guests to interact naturally. For example, while so much is going on at all times in different areas throughout the room, an argument breaks out next to me between a bridesmaid and groomsman, apparently a couple, when one accuses the other of "grinding" on another guest near the dance floor. "Did you see her? Did you think she was grinding on the guy?" My response in hand alters their own reaction as I quickly find myself refereeing the two who finally simmer down and see stars for each other once again. Fun stuff like that. 

 

I praise this talented cast who really has to be on top of their improv game for the entire two and a half hours - even in the bathroom! I can't imagine it an easy task to interact with strangers for an entire evening, playing off so well the many curve balls they are thrown. 

 

Paul Stroili wonderfully directs this new reworked version of "Tony N' Tina's Wedding", a former cast member himself during the show's previous Chicago run, as he took on the role of Vinny Black to which the mantle has now been passed to Brian Noonan who tackles the colorful character with such command. 

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is a unique ceremony/celebration full of laughs and good times through and through. It's actually a wedding one can really look forward to attending for once (I know I'll hear it for that one later). By the end of the night you almost get the feeling you know the Nunzio's and Vitale's. 

 

"There's a hot tub party afterwards!" I was told by a groomsman on his way out. "Don't forget your speedo!"

 

"Tony N' Tina's Wedding" is currently being performed at Resurrection Church (3309 N Seminary) for the service then the reception moves to Chicago Theatre Works (1113 W Belmont) just over a block away. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.TonyLovesTina.com.

 

*Note - a full pasta entree is provided along with a cash bar.  A Vegetarian option is available by making a request to "Vinny Black" upon entering the reception area.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Similar to the interactive comedy hit “Tony and Tia’s Wedding” where actors stroll about the hall in character to mingle with audience members, Chicagoans can now enjoy what might just possibly be a new dinner theatre hit, “We Gotta Bingo”.  In “We Gotta Bingo”, housed at Chicago Theatre Works on Belmont Avenue, guests are thrust into the setting of a fundraiser to raise money for two Catholic churches to merge, the main event being bingo, where attendees actually participate and win cheesy prizes like hand-knitted toilet paper holders or a used clock radio from the 1980s.

Father Duncan, played admirably by Gary Smiley, hosts the event while fast talking and professional lottery ball caller “Lucky” Bucky (Merrick Robinson) calls out the numbers while also plugging his used furniture store and squeezing in as many one-liners as possible. Of course a stunning presenter is needed for an event of this nature, in this case it is Darla, who is played by Jessica Scott and simply nails the ditzy role.

Among the many characters milling about, my favorites may have been Rosa and Rudy, a stereotypical overly-exaggerated Italian couple played by Jane Allyson-D’-Arienzo and Jerome R. Marzullo. I love the way they interact with each other but even more so with the crowd. Rosa would frequently engage with women in the crowd to gossip and stir things up while Rudy, more reserved, made small talk mostly with the men in attendance. The shots they took at each other were hilarious and spot on.

After a game or two of bingo, guests are served dinner (catered by Giordano’s) that includes salad, bread and lasagna. Vegetarians should know to mention they prefer a meatless option ahead of time so that they too can be accommodated. Later, yummy lemon bars and brownies are distributed to all the tables.  

This is the perfect theatre experience for someone who enjoys drinking a couple beers and getting a bit rowdy as crowd chants are often invoked by the characters and one-liners become much funnier than they probably really are. It’s festive and it becomes a more of a collaboration between audience and actors as the comfort level grows throughout the evening, as guests chime in and actors respond. If you want to sit back and quietly watch a show, this is not the event for you.

Bingo, beer, Italian food and plenty of laughs – for what more could one ask?

 

We Gotta Bingo is currently playing at Chicago Theatre Works (1113 W. Belmont) and tickets are at a reasonable $49. For tickets and/or more show info, visit www.wegottabingo.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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