You don’t have to be gay to add Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux to your Must-See List. In fact, this astutely tweaked reprise of 2009’s smash hit A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding is fabulous entertainment for theatergoers of all sexual/gender shadings, and what’s even better, it’s all real … or the next best thing.
Let me clarify.
While other Crown City Theatre Company productions have kept audiences separated by tradition (and the “fourth wall”) from the action on stage, the interactive Two Grooms lets you, the audience member, be part of the story. Not only that, but the wedding of Joshua Mordecai Weinberg (Evan Strand) and Brent James Logan (Phillip Pruitt) takes place inside a real church, or more specifically inside St. Matthews Lutheran Church, North Hollywood, whose campus Crown City calls home.
It’s at the church entrance that you’ll be greeted and seated by groomsmen “L” (BP Major) and Jeff Parks (Mario Dalto) and (depending on where you’re seated) get to meet and chat with members of the wedding party.
These include the Weinbergs: Josh’s widowed father Marty (Irwin Moskowitz), glued to his cell phone; his sister Sarah Weinberg-Plotzman (Erin Coker), whose ring-bearer daughter is sadly indisposed; his aunt Rose Weinberg-Waxman (Evelyn Celic), with the voice of a foghorn and the drive of a Mack truck; and unofficial family member (and Josh’s somewhat gender-unspecific ex) Kyle Lewis (understudy Michael Gmur).
As for the Logans, you’ll meet: Stan and Sharon Logan (Bob Dean and Jodi Harrison), obviously on the Bush-Reagan-Romney side of the political fence and none too happy about their son’s marriage to another man; and their strong-but-silent (and apparently still shell-shocked) Marine vet son Bobby (Rob August).
If a bit of a fender-bender in front of the church keeps Best Man Gavin Scott (Kevin Held), his flirty Russian girlfriend-of-a-day Svetlana (Maria Melnikova), and Maid Of Honor Simone Hansen (Kimberly Alexander) a bit late, they do arrive in the nick of time, and since wedding planner Hillary Chapman (Kurt Hansen) is on hand to make sure things run smoothly, pianist Zander Van Der Zee (William A. Reilly) to tickle the church ivories, and Internet-ordained Lindsey Talbot (Sarah French) to officiate, let the wedding procession begin.
Vows taken and rings exchanged, it’s then off to the reception hall next door (Crown City Theatre itself) for complimentary champagne and wedding cake (and drinks for purchase at the bar), and if there’s been interactive fun before, it’s nothing compared to what happens once the reception has begun.
Like the now nearly 30-year-old international sensation Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding (and A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding, on which Crown City’s latest is based), Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux guarantees audiences a theatrical experience unlike any other. After all, when was the last time a groom’s disgruntled ex invited you to dance? (That’s how this reviewer got the whole scoop from Kyle’s admittedly slanted point of view.)
Yes, there’s an actual script (Reilly and Ben Rovner receive writing credit, with additional material by *), one that is imaginatively directed by Reilly and performed with clockwork precision by an all-around sensational cast.
Scripted elements include traditional wedding speeches and toasts from friends and family, the cutting of the wedding cake, the tossing of the bouquet (or a matching pair of roses in this case), and a hunky male stripper. But it’s the unexpected plot twists that provides the most memorable fun, and don’t be surprised if some authentically dramatic moments bring tears to your eyes, as they did to mine.
After all, what’s a wedding without a good cry? (Or some snapshots to remember the event, like those I took at the ceremony and reception, and have posted here.)
Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux wisely retains a number of 2009’s back stories. Maid Of Honor Simone still appears to be carrying more than a bit of a torch for bff Josh. Brent’s parents are still every bit as upset at their son’s marrying a man (and a Jew to boot), with Mom Sharon popping as many pills as Mom Donna did. And Kyle still can’t get over Josh’s having left him after a two-year relationship and just the teensiest bit of cheating on Kyle’s part.
This time round, however, aunt Rose has a surprise wedding gift unlikely to please her yarmulke-wearing kin; Bobby is single, the better to keep the uniformed Marine a bit more of a mystery; and perhaps most importantly, some clever fine-tuning makes Big Gay Wedding 2014 more general-audience-friendly than was its more “homo-centric” 2009 predecessor. Gay uncle Morty is now straight widower Marty, gay best man Gavin is now straight best man Gavin, the better to allow the gorgeous Svetlana to flirt with potential male Green Card providers, and a gay subplot or two lies on the cutting room floor.
But make no mistake, Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux is still absolutely, fabulously gay enough to make its core audience giddy with delight. Still, straight allies are now likely to feel even more welcome and at home than they did first time round.
Cast returnees Celic, Dean, Harrison, Held, Major, Moskowitz, and Reilly are every bit as wonderful as they were back in 2009, and are matched by newcomers Alexander, August, Coker, Dalto, French, Gmur, Hansen, and Melnikova.
As for the grooms, they don’t get any handsomer or more winning or more believably paired than Strand and Pruitt.
There’s not a cast member that doesn’t merit an A+ for comedy. The big surprise is a pair of deeply-felt dramatic monologs by August and Pruitt that had this reviewer moved in a way I don’t recall feeling four years ago.
The new-for-2014 design team deserve kudos all around, from scenic designer Keiko Moreno (who decks out St. Matthews for “Act One,” then transforms Crown City Theatre into a festive reception hall) to costume designer Tanya Apuya (who gives each character’s a spot-on outfit to wear) to Tony Potter’s expert sound design. Ballet-trained Strand has choreographed a fabulous dance medley for Josh and Brent. Rap tracks by Sean Finn are performed with hip-hop hilarity by Alexander. Reilly and Rovner’s gorgeous “You Are That Man” gives Major a chance to show off some sensational vocal chops at the ceremony.
Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux is produced by Crown City Theatre Company. Zad Potter is production stage manager and assistant director. Gary Lamb is executive producer and (with Reilly) co-artistic director.
I loved A Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding so much back in 2009 that I went back for a second and third visit, and I have a feeling that once will not be enough for Two Grooms.
And the best news of all is that real-life Josh-and-Brents can now get legally wed in the state of California, and eighteen others, and the District Of Columbia … AND still counting.
Now, isn’t that something to celebrate with a Big Gay Wedding out North Hollywood way!
JULY 6 UPDATE:
There’s probably no show more enjoyable to revisit than Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux. Not only does a retunee get to enjoy an (almost) authentic gay wedding in an (actually) authentic North Hollywood church (and spy on the shenanigans of the grooms’ very different families), who doesn’t get a kick out of a post-ceremony reception when there are complementary snacks and wedding cake (and drinks available for purchase at a fully-stocked bar)? Add to that Two Grooms’ guaranteed merriment and mayhem and you’ve got quite possibly the most entertaining two hours in town.
A return visit also means another chance to savor Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux’s all-around sensational cast, beginning with Evan Strand and Phillip Pruitt, dreamier than ever as grooms Josh and Brent, their romantic chemistry grown even stronger and their performances even deeper in the weeks since I first reviewed them.
Supporting turns by Evelyn Celic, Bob Dean, Jodi Harrison, and Irwin Moskowitz (as three parents and one aunt of the grooms) continue to sparkle, as do featured performances by Mario Dalto, Kurt Hansen, BP Major, Maria Melnikova, and William A. Reilly.
Making a return visit even more of a treat are cast additions like Sara J. Stuckey, having great fun as the sister with a nauseated child; Lisaun Whittingham, a delight as online minister Lindsey; and especially Jade Tailor, who vanishes raptastically inside bad girl Simone her first time out in the part.
Last but not least is the pleasure in seeing familiar faces in new roles. Michael Gmur transitions quite astonishingly from the somewhat gender-unspecific Kyle into US Marine military man of mystery Bobby, and the sensational Rob August moves from strong, (mostly) silent Bobby to frat boy extraordinaire Gavin in a pair of performance that auger big things ahead for the L.A. newcomer.
Unfortunately, an inadvertent bit of miscommunication between producer and actor meant that anyone seeing Two Grooms for the first time yesterday saw it minus Josh’s ex Kyle and the subplot revolving around the torch still carried by Josh’s onetime boyfriend following just the teensiest bit of cheating on Kyle’s part.
Still, with so much happening before, during, and after the ceremony, Kyle’s absence was felt only by those who’d seen (and in the case of this reviewer danced) with him before.
Extended at the time of this writing through the end of July, Two Grooms: Big Gay North Hollywood Wedding Redux ought to be at the top of everyone’s to-do list this summer.
But be warned.
Just as weddings were to Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor, and Cher’s mom Georgia Holt, each married eight times, William A. Reilly and Ben Rovner’s interactive gem may well prove irresistibly addictive.
Crown City Theater, St. Matthew’s Church, 11031 Camarillo St., North Hollywood.
May 25, 2014
*Amy Ball, Evelyn Celic, Bob Dean, Cameron Denny, Jenny Gattone, Jodi Harrison, Barbera Ann Howard, Gary Lamb, Jen McGlone, Irwin Moskowitz, Sterling Price, Berna Roberts, Paul Storiale, and Robson Viera.