It all began with an email from my friend, Kim Sozzi, telling me all about her role as Aunt Toniann in the highly acclaimed off Broadway show, in its second year, My Big Gay Italian Wedding. I responded to Kim in an email, praising her for such a great accomplishment! I know how hard it is to stay visible in this very challenging music industry...you go, girl! Next thing I know, thanks to Kim and whatever she may have said about me, I received an email from the playwright, Anthony J. Wilkinson, asking me if I'd like to fill in for Kim as Aunt Toniann in the following three weeks. OH MY GOD!!!! YES!!! I am a firm believer that all our experiences in our lives prepare us for new ones later on...and I was immediately brought back to my high school & college days, when I lived and breathed musical theater. I LOVE musical theater, always did. Always will. It's been more than 10 years since I've done any musical theater, but dammit, I want this.
With less than two weeks to prepare, I went to see ths show, and while I laughed out loud with tears in my eyes, I left the show in a panic. Lots of lines to learn, two songs and two dances...how the hell am I going to do all that?? When I heard from the stage manager, I would have one musical rehearsal, one dance rehearsal and one stage rehearsal - I felt even more unsure. Wow. But I kept convincing myself that God wouldn't give me more than I could handle...I HAD to handle this right. The most challenging thing for me would be learning the NY Brooklyn Italian accent. I learned quickly, thanks to my many Italian friends. Oh, my Gawd!! Finally, I was able to have a friend over to go over my lines with me...my first time rehearsing at all, and I received the call from my sister, Gina, that my sister Grace was in the hospital...and it was that day, that my beloved sister, Grace, passed away.
There was a lot to do to prepare for my sister's memorial service. There was a lot of drama going on in my family, and I desperately played the role of mediator and comforter, and it was impossible to focus on the show. But the day after my sister's memorial service, I had no choice but to work on the show...so I didn't really get an honest opportunity to grieve her. In a very strange way, I would cry at the strangest times: parked in my car in the supermarket parking lot, in the elevator, and right in front of the theater before the show. There are no such things as accidents...and I believe God gave me this show as a distraction so I would be forced to look forward. Besides, I know my sister would have been angry with me if I just sat at home. And as they say, the show must go on...and it did.
My two rehearsals were CRAZY!! Thank God for my friends who helped me with my lines because the rehearsals were quick, they were blunt..not too much explanation, and well, it left me feeling just so unprepared. I wanted to complain. LOL. If this were MY production, oh hell no, I would demand two 5 hour rehearssals at least. But it's not my production, and I'm damned lucky to be in the show at all...especially this one. So it's best to eat humble pie in these matters. Shut up, buckle up & drive. So everytime I began to get upset, I just nodded my head and smiled. The cast reassured me that everything would be okay, and no one would let me fail...
It was July 15th. I woke up so nervous. Oh, I know most of you are probably wondering about the Quiet One! Duh. I'm sorry. LOL..He's GREAT!! He has really been my rock during my sister's passing. He's hugged me, cooked for me, massaged my feet, reassured me, and read my lines with me over and over and over again. In spite of it all, I was still excited and terrified all at the same time. I had butterflies from the second the Quiet One asked me, "You ready for today?" I went over my songs and my lines one more time. And then I was off to the theater. They allowed me to practice my songs once more on stage, which helped. I walked into the dressing room where my castmates were extremely supportive, promising me it would be fun and great. I began to put on my costume for the first act; I applied my make up, and prayed VERY VERY hard. And then, the stylist put my 3 feet high wig on (thanks, Kim), and just like that, in an instant, I laughed so hard. The butterflies went away, and I got it. I understood exactly who Toniann is, and what I needed to do. I received flowers, a mass card someone sent to me in honor of my sister, and an attorney I used to work for sent me an envelope backstage saying, "I'm here...break a leg." It was all so exciting..."FIVE MINUTES EVERYONE...PLACES!!!"
There I was, stage right, waiting for my cue...and I walked out with my first line..."Oh, my Gawd!! The traffic ta-day. Angela, ya got any cawfee perkin??"...and that was it. I was acting. And I was welcomed with applause...and it felt wonderful. There was a lot of impromptu improvisation with the actors, and I'm happy to say that I was able to keep up...and I even got my own applause after making up some insult to my brother-in-law in the show. During the second act, I was overwhelmed & had a hard time remembering where I was supposed to stand, lol. One of the girls walked over to me saying, "Toniann, how are ya?" Then she whispered in my ear...'you belong on the other side.' LOL...The cast was right, they supported me and I was extremely grateful. The show was over, with thunderous applause, and I was EXHAUSTED!!! I had so much make up on I looked hilarious...it took me a day and a half to entirely get that lipstick off, but it was so worth it. I did the show again the next day, and realized I was bit by the acting bug again. THIS is what I want to do with my life...
There was an intimate cast party afterward, and I stayed for a drink. All my friends had shown up to take me out to dinner so I couldn't stay long. I thanked Anthony, the playwright, and I even made new friends (Hey, Chad!! LOL). I walked away secretly wishing it wouldn't be over.
That Monday, I received a call from Anthony asking me if I could do THREE more dates, including one in Atlantic City where I'd be on stage with Nikki Blonsky and the legendary Lanie Kazan!! Holy (bleep)!! I said yes right away, called my management with the dates and begged them to be sure I had no conflicts in my schedule. It all worked out...If you haven't seen the show yet, I'll be on this Friday & Saturday, August 19th & 20th in NYC & the 27th in Atlantic City...I hope you'll come. It is a great way to laugh out loud & celebrate family, life, love & marriage equality!! LOL!! You know what I always say: "The Hiya the hair, the closa to Gawd!!"