The creative team who fashioned the Off Broadway longrunner “Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding” is throwing another party. This time the Fontana family has ferried in from Staten Island for “Aunt Chooch’s Birthday.” The tourist trade in search of a diversion from megamusicals can dine, drink and dance amid the melee of warring in-laws, sparring siblings and mauling mates.
If you’ve ever been to an Italian wedding, you’ll recognize the hosts and merry-makers. If you haven’t, there is plenty of time to get acquainted when the family photo album is screened. It seems Uncle Luka, shown socializing with Rocky Graziano, ended up in jail, while Uncle Buck is seen buried up to his neck in the sand by his playful nephews on a day at the beach. “That’s the first time we buried him,” a relative wisecracks.
The family matriarch, Aunt Chooch (Dana Lorge), who makes a mean pot of pasta sauce, attempts to pacify the rivalry between daughters Lina (Susan Varon) and Giovanna (Kathleen Bergman). Granddaughter Christine (Maria Baratta) has trouble singing on pitch, and we are spared her rendition of “O Mio Babbino Caro” in favor of a jarring version of “I Will Survive.” Christine’s husband, Leo (Benny Geraci), leers at the ladies, hurls insults at the in-laws, and motivates brawls.
Part scripted and part ad-libbed, the show has family members mixing freely with patrons, offering catty gossip, spicy jokes and hawking bargain flights to Las Vegas. Club owner Bunny Boffo (Christine Vanacore) boasts of a liaison with Elvis, while band leader Louie Nanni (John Thomas) serenades the boisterous clan with “Buona Sera,” “Non Dimenticar” and “O Sole Mio.” Supported by a swinging lounge trio, Nanni invites the guests to sing along with “That’s Amore.”
There’s also baked ziti, participation in a round of bingo and even a conga line. It all adds up to a mindless triumph of tacky revelry. The wild abandon of the evening’s humor is infectious. Writer-director Larry Pellegrini has created his partygoers with a truthfully observant eye, which not only reveals their raucous misbehavior, but suggests that there is a dark side lurking in the family closet. As Giovanna whispered to me on the way out, “You can’t choose your family!”