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Grosse Pointes, Warren

February 12, 2014

Love imitates art for real-life couples from ‘Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding’

By K. Michelle Moran
C & G Staff Writer

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Freddie D’Agostino, of Novi, and Katie Ennes Bellanca, of Grosse Pointe Woods, play the title couple in “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding,” an interactive comedy that will be staged in Windsor and Warren.

GROSSE POINTES/WARREN — Valentine’s Day is all about love and romance, and what’s more romantic than two people pledging their lifelong devotion to each other?

That’s one of the things that has made the interactive comedy play “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” such a hit with audiences, especially with productions around Valentine’s Day. But what audiences might not realize is that among the longtime “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” cast and crew are several real-life love stories that blossomed while performers worked together.

Singer and keyboard player Deborah Tedrick, the original musical director for the show, is married to Alan Canning, drummer for the show band Fusion; Freddie D’Agostino, the director and actor who plays Tony, is married to bar manager and assistant stage manager Sarah Dowgiallo D’Agostino; and Katie Ennes Bellanca, who now plays Tina but formerly played pregnant maid of honor Connie Marcogni, is married to the show’s co-producer, James V. Bellanca III.

“Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” will be produced Feb. 14-15 at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts in Windsor, and Feb. 21 at Andiamo Celebrity Showroom in Warren. The play — which made its off-Broadway debut on Valentine’s Day 25 years ago — is celebrating its 16th anniversary in metro Detroit, having been staged at various venues locally for more than 100,000 “guests.”

It’s about the wedding of Tony Nunzio to Valentina Vitale, a union that forces the feuding Nunzio and Vitale families to come together. The audience members are as much a part of the show as the actors, since they all “play” wedding guests and can interact, if they choose, with the cast, but such participation is voluntary.

“The show itself is about relationships and love,” James Bellanca said via email. “It is successful because these actors are invested in the show and their characters. In a very real sense, many of the cast and crew grew up together. They are one great big, strange family.”

Ennes Bellanca and Bellanca, who live in Grosse Pointe Woods with their two young daughters, have been married for more than two years but became a couple not long after they met following the show’s inception locally. Ennes Bellanca, a Royal Oak native, said by email that there was “an instant connection” and friendship grew into romance.

“We instantly became friends,” her husband said. “I think we really appreciated each other’s sense of humor. You definitely need a sense of humor to keep up with the characters in this show.”

Ennes Bellanca isn’t surprised the romantic nature of the storyline has spilled off the stage and into the lives of the cast and crew.

“We spent four to five days a week together for the first couple of years in the show,” she said in an email interview. “We really became a family, and spending that much time together provided a great opportunity to really get to know each other. Also, the show is about love. Who doesn’t love a wedding? Truthfully, I couldn’t have paired up better couples myself than Freddy and Sarah, and Deb and Al. I think it’s pretty awesome that we each were able to see the others’ story unfold. We were all there together along the way.”

Another show original is Tedrick, who plays Celeste Romano. Tedrick also performed in a run in Orlando from 2006-2008. She and Canning, who married in 2010 and now live in Bloomfield Hills, met at a band practice at Tedrick’s parents’ house in Farmington Hills.

“I can’t say I cared for Alan at first, because he was too quiet and seemed like he didn’t want to read the charts I had copied for the band or listen to the recordings I had made of the music,” Tedrick said in an email interview. “It turns out later, he was nervous because he doesn’t read charts, but he is a very good player.”

Canning, on the other hand, said he “liked her right away.”

“I thought she was cute at the first rehearsal, wearing a ‘Blossom’ hat — remember the TV show? — and these little glasses,” he said by email. “She was a ball of energy, too.”

Tedrick said she bonded with the band members, who supported her during her divorce as the show was starting.

“Finally, after quite a while, I had to admit to myself that Alan and I had grown close,” she said.

Canning believes their union was fated: His aunt was the longtime insurance agent for Tedrick’s father, and the couple most likely first crossed paths years earlier, when Canning was a skate guard at BonaVenture roller skating rink in Farmington Hills and Tedrick was a regular skater there.

Roselie Bellanca Posselius, of Grosse Pointe Farms — James Bellanca’s cousin, and the show’s producer since the beginning — said about nine or 10 members of the cast and crew of 28-32 have been with the Detroit show since 1998. Besides the couples who’ve married, Bellanca Posselius said she and others have made “lifelong friends.”

“It’s hard not to become close in a show like this,” she said. “You learn to anticipate each other and what happens next.”

Canning, who said the show has only gotten better over time, echoed that sentiment.

After the first couple of years, “It seemed that we could all read each others’ minds,” he said.

Love is in the air among ticket-holders, too. There have been more than a few proposals by audience members during the course of the show, and some couples have renewed their vows, as well, Bellanca Posselius said.

Just as they would at a real wedding, audience members get dinner and cake. There’s no set dress code, but “it seems to me the people who dress like they’re going to a (real) wedding have the most fun,” Bellanca Posselius said. Some even bring gifts, although that’s not required.

“I love that, in 15 years, I have never performed the same show twice,” Ennes Bellanca said. “The audience is what makes this show so great. Because the show is not scripted, you never know what to expect from the audience or fellow cast members. The concept of the show is genius — there is really nothing else quite like it.”

Doors open at 6 p.m. for the Feb. 14-15 shows at Chrysler Theatre at St. Clair College Centre for the Arts, 201 Riverside Drive in Windsor, where tickets are $55 or $500 for a table of 10. For tickets or more information, call (519) 252-6579 or visit www.chryslertheatre.com. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the Feb. 21 show at Andiamo Celebrity Showroom, 7096 E. 14 Mile Road in Warren. Tickets are $63. For tickets or more information, call (586) 268-3200 or visit www.andiamoitalia.com/showroom. The show also has its own Facebook page and a new website, http://tonytinadetroit.com.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer K. Michelle Moran at kmoran@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1047.