Tony n' Tina's Wedding, the granddaddy of all audience-interactive shows and currently the longest-running comedy--on or off Broadway--celebrates the start of its 13th year this February 14th. Not a bad valentine for executive producer Joe Corcoran, a former Wall Street bond trader who fell in love with theater quite by accident.
"My friend Mark Nasser was the original Tony, and he thought it would be fun for me to do the show for a few nights, so I played one of the bridegroom's friends for three performances while the show was still Off-Off Broadway," says Corcoran. "What happened was, I invited all my friends and family to come, and they loved the show. That was the spark that took it to the next step." At the time Nasser was really the only person in the theater world who Corcoran knew. "But I approached the authors about getting the rights to do it on a bigger scale," says Corcoran. "So we opened in February, 1988."
With Corcoran (who is also the co-founder and CEO of TheaterMania) on board as a full-fledged producer, the reception for Tony n' Tina's Wedding was switched to Carmelita's (called Vinnie Black's in the show) at 14th Street and Third Avenue. "The audience first went to a church on West 4th Street and then after the wedding everyone would literally have to go in cabs all the way across town to Third Avenue for the reception!" he says. "Then we switched the reception to 147 Waverly Place, and the church to St. John's on Christopher Street."
In the years since the show first opened, the cast has included Cher's former boyfriend Rob Camilletti (labeled "the bagel boy" by the media because he once worked in a bagel shop), New York Met Lee Mazzilli, and Howard Stern sidekick "Stuttering" John Melendez, who is currently playing in The Donkey Show. The current cast, headed by Scott Bielecky as Tony and Susan Campanaro as Tina, continues to do a near-sellout business.
"We get a lot of tourists from other countries who come back to New York and want to see our show again," says Campanaro, the current Valentina Lynn Nunzio (Tina), over lunch at the Broadway Grill. "Seeing our show usually reminds them of their own wedding and their own families."
"I started three years ago in the show and became Tony a year ago," Bielecky chimes in. "I was the understudy for Tony for a few months--the guy was fantastic--and there was a chance for me to play Tony when he left. I just took off in the part. I love it. And when Susan and I work together it's really special. We can go anywhere we want in the roles because we trust one another." Campanaro agrees, explaining, "I change my wedding toast a little to keep up with the times. Scott and I are always very consistent with what we do in the show, but it's always exciting and new."
"Many of the actors in Tony n' Tina realize that this show is not about the actors, but the audience," says Bielecky. "Some days the audience comes to the church [now half a block from the Edison Hotel on 46th Street] and just basically sits there and only laughs at a couple of jokes. They're sitting there listening, and you're starting to get them laughing a bit, and we know what we have to do when we get to the reception hall at the Edison [the current Vinnie Black's] to get them to open up and really enjoy themselves. That's when they start to relate. We go through their whole lives in two hours--they get lost, they party, they have a great time. They may not have known what to make of it early on, but afterwards we'll get comments like, 'I had the best time of my life.'"
"A lot of people don't know what to do," notes Campanaro. "We're trying to win them over. On any given night, the show's as good as the spirit of the people in it. It's the spirit of the cast. And right now there's a very high spirit in the cast. If we have fun, the audience has fun--it's as simple as that." Bielecky agrees. "If you have a bad day, you've got to lose it before the show, because a bad attitude will kill you," he says. "We just get lost for three hours. It's like therapy: When you see people laughing, you feel good about yourself."
And good energy is contagious. Earlier this year, Tony n' Tina's Wedding moved from its Greenwich Village location to its current Times Square address in the Edison Hotel. With the move uptown, Campanero has noticed a corresponding rise in energy level--the heart of the theater district and Times Square seems to be a perfect match for Tony n' Tina.