It's a close imitation of the original interactive play, Tony 'n' Tina's Wedding, which is nearing its fourteenth year as an off-Broadway institution. One of its cocreators, Larry Pelligrini, says of Joey and Maria, "Yes, it's a rip-off. But they are Joan Collins to our Elizabeth Taylor." The director of Joey and Maria says that his show started in Boston about a decade ago. One guesses a lawsuit is out of the question at this point -- you can't copyright an age-old ritual -- but a sharp attorney could probably argue a pretty good case that Joey wouldn't exist were it not for the blueprint laid by Tony.
Italian-Americans who feel defamed by The Sopranos should probably steer clear. As the less-than-solemn vows melt into a raucous reception, the stereotypes bouncing around the ballroom include a grandmother with broken English and baggy stockings; a gum-snapping, none-too-bright bridesmaid; and a mobster who wants to whack someone in the wedding party. Where T 'n' T had an ex-boyfriend of the bride crash the party, Joey offers an ex-girlfriend of the groom. The pregnant bridesmaid from T 'n' T is replaced by an alcoholic bridesmaid. You can change the cufflinks, but the tux looks the same.
Part of the formula for having a mindless, OK time at a dinner theater is being seated with entertaining tablemates. Our ringside table included Dawson, Tiffany, Kim, Bruce, Ryan and Courtney -- who toasted the wedding with shots of tequila -- and, oddly enough, Wendy Tapper, who produced T 'n' T during its two-year Kansas City run in the mid-'90s.
"I want to see if any of our cast is in it," Tapper said before the show. She offered (besides a stream of profanities) a running tally of how many plot points were similar. "I can't believe him!" she said when she spotted Frankie Collias, who also played a groomsman in her show. "But watch -- he'll be the best thing in it."
While few in the cast can legitimately be called actors, there are some funny players. As Tina, the vodka-swilling bridesmaid, Toni Mancuso does a good job denying she has a problem -- until she plops down tableside in a puddle of tears. Collias is indeed an integral part, playing Gino Cappuccino, the randy bachelor with an eye (and roving hand) for the ladies. Kellie Talley's Lisa Linguini doesn't have much character definition other than her copper-toned wig, but her awkward attempts to be hip and happening are amusing. And Jeremy Griffin's Joey carries off some braggadocio despite forgetting to clip his mother's apron strings.
Other cast members lack the courage of the creators' convictions. Stephanie Lund's Maria is too abrasive. Michael Adams' Carmine is too young to successfully pull off a smarmy-host act. The forced levity on the faces in the audience during group performances of "The Macarena" and "YMCA" argued for putting those two wedding-reception standards to bed. A call should also go out for a brand-new concept.
"Any time local actors get employment, that's a good thing," says Garrett, artistic director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. It must be especially gratifying for the locals, who have watched a good deal of commercial work go out of town lately. And with the deterioration of the Kansas City and Missouri Film Commission offices, there hasn't been much film work for Kansas City actors.
Stan Harris, the former Kansas Citian who wrote the screenplay, and Larry Garrett, president of the ad agency Fasone Garrett Boehm and secretary/treasurer of the Missouri Film Production Company, say the state tax incentives initially discussed for filming in Missouri have shrunk dramatically. They were tempted to shoot in Kansas, where more substantive tax breaks were offered. One potential investor told them, "We'd fund the film if you shoot in Canada." But Harris is sold on Butler. "It is perfect for this film, and it will be an economic boost for the town," he says.
Kansas City actors can expect to show Sidonie Garrett their stuff in mid-August. Asked how she'll narrow the large pool of local talent down to thirteen speaking parts, she draws a parallel to how she casts the Shakespeare festival and other shows. "It's what I always do," she says. "It comes down to whoever is right for the role. And the actors know that."