HIGHLAND PARK – Hannah Aaron Brown never dreamed that she’d get inspiration from one of the Real Housewives of New Jersey for her leading role in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.
“Melissa Gorga from Real Housewives of New Jersey is definitely like a Tina, as she’s very sparkly and over-the-top,” said Brown, a Highland Park High School graduate. “I have to wear this giant hair weave that loves to fall off during the play, which is always fun. The great thing about the show is if something goes wrong you just give into it, because no one ever knows.”
“Once when the priest asked if there were any objections during the ceremony, one guy from the audience stood up and said, ‘Tony, you kissed me and told me you loved me.’ So I yelled out, ‘Uncle Larry we were drunk and it was Christmas. It was a joke. Sit down.’”
Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is an interactive play where the audience participates in every step of a loud, boisterous Italian-American wedding. Twenty three actors are in the cast, and Tony ‘n Tina are caught in the middle of two dysfunctional families.
Brown appeared mostly in HPHS student-run productions including the Short Play Festival, and all four years of the variety show Stunts. As far as other HPHS activities, “I did one day of lacrosse conditioning and I almost threw up,” she said.
Her role as Tina requires new athletic challenges as she’s required to dance in a 50-pound wedding dress. “The visual of me running around in this giant cupcake of a dress is fun to keep the focus on the bride during the play,” she said.
She graduated from HPHS in 2009 and went on to study theater at Illinois State University. After college she was an acting apprentice with the Actors Theatre of Louisville, a nine-month program, but she had to quit to take care of her mom who became very ill. Sadly, she passed away in May.
“We lost her ironically on Cinco de Mayo, which is a little funny, because she really loved margaritas and having a good time,” said Brown. “I’m just excited that I can celebrate her every Cinco de Mayo.” Unfortunately, her mom never knew that she would play Tina in Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding.
Brown explained that her dad has been good friends since high school with Moira Wilson, one of the original writers and cast members of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. She told her dad that Brown should audition as the play was heading to Chicago.
“In preparation I talked to Moira about the history of the show and (at first) I thought it sounded schmaltzy,” said Brown. “I originally auditioned for the role of Connie the maid of honor and found out that the goal was to trick people into thinking they were at a real wedding, so once I knew that I didn’t have the urge to overact.”
For the first time in Chicago, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding will take place at a real church. Guests will begin with the ceremony at Resurrection Church, 3309 North Seminary Avenue, with a full meal and reception immediately following just one block away at Vinnie Black’s Coliseum (Chicago Theater Works), 1113 W. Belmont Avenue, according to a press release.
“After the ceremony, the reception is a little less formal where the actors are mingling with the guests,’ said Brown. “It’s a fun opportunity for the actors to flush out their characters and bounce ideas off of complete strangers,” said Brown.
Though Brown said she was incredibly nervous when she took an improvisational class at Second City a few years ago, her experience dealing with enthusiastic audience members allows her to flex her improv muscles.
“We had a really drunk bachelorette party and we do a whole bit where we’re lifting people up in a chair,” said Brown. “We had this one drunken audience member throw herself in the chair. I said that’s my cousin and she’s trying to take my attention away on my wedding day.”
Brown’s family has gotten in on the action too. Her brother-in-law performed YMCA with his friends during one of the shows, while her dad enjoys telling everyone that he’s “like a father to Tina.”
“There’s something rewarding about having a quiet audience at first and winning them over by the end where they’re all up and dancing,” said Brown. “When the audience is fun it makes our job much easier, because we don’t have to feel like we’re throwing spaghetti at a wall and nothing is sticking.”
Brown began her role as Tina at the end of September and the show has recently been extended until the end of April 2017. “We keep it fresh as it’s different for every audience,” said Brown. “I like finding Tina’s softer side and playing the dimensions of who she is instead of making her this one note Bridezilla.”
Brown said the last time Tony n’ Tina was in Chicago it ran for 16 years at Piper’s Alley in Old Town.
Chris Brown, chief theater critic for the Chicago Tribune, said he liked this Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding more than the original Chicago version and praised Tina’s (Brown) and Tony’s (Mitchell Conti) performances as well as, Vinnie’s (Brian Noonan) and the lead singer (Micah Spayer). http://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/theater/reviews/ct-tony-n-tinas-wedding-review-ent-1001-20160930-column.html
When Brown isn’t playing Tina she’s working at Summer House Santa Monica in Lincoln Park, a Lettuce Entertainment Restaurant. “I’m a server, a walking cliché,” she said. She remembers one recent brush with fame: “There was actually one time when someone came to Summer House and said are you Tina?”
With Billy Minshall as Father Mark