Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding

Tony and Tina have been getting married now since 1988, and this controlled improvisation, in which the audience interacts with an expansive group of fake family and friends at an imaginary nuptials, can no longer be experienced as a fresh theatrical concept. In fact, it seems more like a type of Dante-esque purgatory, where the Nunzio and Vitale families are condemned to acting out their dysfunction on a near-nightly basis. This newest Los Angeles incarnation -- the first eight-month run occurred over a decade ago --has a talented-enough cast, an eager group of pleasing schmoozers, but even they can't overcome the stale, even tedious, nature of the proceedings. When an improvisational idea loses its ability to surprise, it's time to put it to rest.

Tony and Tina have been getting married now since 1988, and this controlled improvisation, in which the audience interacts with an expansive group of fake family and friends at an imaginary nuptials, can no longer be experienced as a fresh theatrical concept. In fact, it seems more like a type of Dante-esque purgatory, where the Nunzio and Vitale families are condemned to acting out their dysfunction on a near-nightly basis. This newest Los Angeles incarnation — the first eight-month run occurred over a decade ago –has a talented-enough cast, an eager group of pleasing schmoozers, but even they can’t overcome the stale, even tedious, nature of the proceedings. When an improvisational idea loses its ability to surprise, it’s time to put it to rest.

Of course, if conga lines are your idea of an evening of theatrical art, then by all means hasten to the Henry Fonda for the opportunity to participate. It should be noted that theater critics are a notoriously party-pooping lot, so opening night may have generated an atypical lack of energy. The troupe relies heavily on the enthusiasm of the audience, and a large part of the actors’ jobs here are to drag the resistant up from their table assignments and onto the dance floor.

Many productions of “Tony ‘n’ Tina” take place at two separate locations, one for the ceremony and one for the reception. In this case, the locale is conflated, and all happens within the confines of the Henry Fonda Theater. The theater stands in for the fictional seedy nightspot Club Sparks. Between the wedding and the festivities, the audience is escorted back into the lobby for drinks and hors d’oeuvres, and the cast mingles with the guests, revealing various threads of backstory that are intended to inform our enjoyment. The maid of honor (Betsy Moore) talks about her bun in the oven, the bride’s obviously gay brother (Michael Bommarito) advertises his new venture marrying fitness and Bob Fosse and the best man (Jay Lay) asks, with just the right conspiratorial, criminal tone, if you like to “party.” A policeman hovers, keeping special eye on the club’s owner, a former child television star who just last night had an unfortunate incident with an underage girl, who fell through the creaky balcony.

This is actually the highlight of the evening, engaging one-on-one with these motley characters. By the time the wedding reception proper starts, everything interesting has been revealed, and all that’s left is for the obvious to play out in small bits of unrealized narrative, which it does with mind-numbing repetition. The bride and groom’s families fight, separate and ultimately fight again. Almost all the characters, including the priest, drink to excess, and as the supposed inhibitions slip away, out come the hidden talents — an ‘N Sync dance number from the bride and bridesmaids, for example — and the hidden psychological disorders, like the bride’s mother’s unhealthy obsession with her late husband.

The reception is catered by would-be standup Vinnie Black (Christopher Cause), and the primary entertainment comes from a live band, headed by singer Donny Dolce (a very talented Val Martinez, who easily outclasses the other elements of the affair). Contemporary tunes (“La Vida Loca”) are mixed in with older ones that probably dominated the premiere production (“Celebration”). The food — ziti, chicken, salad, all served in a buffet — is as uninspired and generic as are the character stereotypes and the would-be plot points.

Truth be told, it’s far more entertaining to watch the paying attendees pretend than it is to watch the pros. This is one of those shows where the audience is really on display, and there’s amusement to be found in watching real people have fun faking it, as when some line up to kiss, and (pervertedly) pin money on, the bride (Jackie Tohn) or dance with the groom (James Grimaldi). Still, it’s hardly enough to be worth three-plus hours of your life. Unless, I guess, you really love weddings.

Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding

Henry Fonda Theater; 252 seats; $75

Production

A James M. Nederlander and Howard Perloff Prods. presentation of a performance by Artificial Intelligence. Conceived by Nancy Cassaro. Created by Thomas Michael Allen, James Altuner, Mark Campbell, Nancy Cassaro, Patricia Cregan, Elizabeth Dennehy, Christopher Fracchiolla, Jack Fris, Kevin A. Lionidas, Mark Nassar, Larry Pellegrini, Susan Varon, Moira Wilson. Directed by Larry Pellegrini.

Creative

Set, Randall Thropp; lighting and sound, David Horoschak; costume consultant, Juan de Armas; choreography, Michael Bommarito; musical director, David Karnes. Opened, reviewed Dec. 8, 2000, runs through Jan. 28, 2001. Running time: 3 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast

With: James Grimaldi, Jackie Tohn, Jay Lay, Betsy Moore, Jon Pascucci, Jules Dosik, Ron S. Petronicolos, Katey Mushlin, George Georgiadis, Amy Lord, Fabiana Medici, Randi Kaplan, Luciano Miele, Michael Bommarito, Iris Bahr, Christopher Cause, Karen Gordon, Louis Iacoviello, Paizhe Pressley, Chris Binnings, David Storrs, Lisa Kaplan, Brently Heilbron, Hayes Hargrove, Andrew Hawtrey, Enoch Scott, Mike Sapienza, Val Martinez, Ana Guigui, David Karnes, Cameron Derek Morgan

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