Will Youse Marry Me?
Tony n' Tina are tying the knot again -- and again, and again -- in Las Vegas.
Just in case you haven't caught up with the show yet, Tn'T has been playing in New York for more than 14 years. Each performance begins with the Italian-American nuptials of Anthony Angelo Nunzio, Jr. and Valentina Lynne Vitale and is followed by a no-holds-barred reception with all the trimmings (!!), hosted by the colorful if suspicious Vinnie Black. Throughout, audience members are very much a part of the action-singing hymns at the church, chatting with members of the bride and groom's extended families, and dancing at the reception to the cheesy sounds of Donny Dulce and Fusion. In short, this is the kind of over-the-top entertainment that seems tailor-made for Vegas.
"The show has played here before, but it was just four or five special nights for high rollers," says director Larry Pellegrini, who helmed the original Tn'T in NYC and subsequent productions throughout the U.S. "The Chicago company was flown out to Vegas to do the show at the Hilton at one point and the New York company came to perform at a couple of the other hotels, but this is different. We perform in what's called a freestanding tent right next to the casino; I think it's the largest freestanding tent in the world. It was previously used by De La Guarda, so it had a real industrial look to it. We had to come in and put up lots of twinkle lights, a canopy, and all of that stuff. I would love to have some slot machines in the room...if we could get a percentage of the take!"
Pellegrini is very happy with this production's Tony and Tina. "Jennifer Alaimo understudied Tina very briefly in New York and played Nicki Black," he tells me over the phone from Vegas. "She's an Italian from Staten Island. I didn't really remember her that well from the New York company, but I did remember that she had performed in the circus and that she rode an elephant. She was doing a show here at the casino called the 'Masquerade Show in the Sky' when we cast her. Tony is John Lombardo, an Italian from Southern California. He's really warm and wonderful. I almost cast him as Donny Dulce because he's such a great singer. He works at a lot of the casinos here: He was a gondolier at The Venetian and he has his own act that he does at a restaurant called Nora's on Friday nights. We're fortunate to have found people like this in Vegas, because there's no Italian community that you can really see here. You can't put your finger on it the way you can in other cities in America."
Still, Pellegrini managed to cast the Vegas show entirely with local actors-"except for Paul Corti, who did the national tour for me. He plays Mr. Nunzio and he's just great. The problem is that, although there are some extraordinary entertainers in Vegas-dancers, singers, magicians, acrobats-there's a very small pool of acting talent, so we really had to reach out to the people who do community theater locally. I think our show may be the first play that's ever run here; a lot of musicals have been here, obviously, but Vegas doesn't do plays. The audiences are so interesting because they're from all over America. We've cut the show down to an hour and 50 minutes from almost two hours and 45 minutes so that people can get back out and gamble. But the most interesting thing about doing the show in Vegas is that, every night, the audience is ready to party. Typically, weeknight performances in New York are a little quiet. Here, people are on vacation, and it doesn't matter if they get drunk that night because they don't have to go to work the next morning. A lot of drinks are bought and consumed-but it's a shorter show, so people don't have the chance to get really drunk."
How, if at all, has Tn'T been adapted for presentation in Vegas? "The ceremony has been cut from 20 minutes to about seven," says Pellegrini. "We get 'em in, get 'em married, and get 'em out! Part of the reason is that the whole show takes place in one venue: Tony and Tina get married right on the dance floor. We set up a little chapel on the stage, then we make a big thing about dismantling it and turning the room into Vinnie Black's Calypso Room. It's a low-class version of a Las Vegas wedding, which is exactly what it's supposed to be." Some local references have been added to the show as in-jokes: "We say that Tony and Tina's church is Our Lady of Las Vegas, which is a real parish church here. And when Vinnie Black gets up and makes a speech, he says, 'I haven't thrown a champagne ceremony like this since Wayne Newton's horse trainer got married.' But the majority of the Las Vegasizing of the show is done by the actors as they interact with people."
I couldn't let our interview end without asking the obvious question: Has Elvis yet been present to see Tony and Tina get hitched in Vegas? "No," says Pellegrini, "but I'm sure he'll show up some night. I've heard that he's in the building."