Happy 11th anniversary to Off-Broadway play My Big Gay Italian Wedding on November 25!
Shapiro: Did you ever think that My Big Gay Italian Wedding would live to be celebrating its 11th year?
Wilkinson: I never thought 11 years ago the show would be where it is today. Eleven years ago marriage equality wasn’t a hot topic because it was pretty much unheard of. It was a far-fetched idea for us to be legally married in any state, never mind NYC. So when I originally ran the show, I only ran it in The Actors Playhouse in the Village, two shows a week. It was such a cute theater, I remember it very well. The feedback at the time was it was a little too much to see two boys getting married. And then in 2009, that’s when gay marriage really started to take a turn. And now we’re at St Luke’s Theater and one of the nicest things about the theater – the appeal, is the location. I remember when we first brought it to St Luke’s Theater and when the marquee went up, there was a lot of controversy cause of the word ‘GAY’. A lot of people said that it shouldn’t be there. I thought all of Hell’s Kitchen is gay. Why the hell does it matter? But I also understand it’s one of the major tourist attractions on 46th Street and I think people thought there would be a lot of backlash. I’m happy to say that we’ve gotten so much support and all kinds of tourists pass by and they really like it. My audience is a lot of tourists and a lot of straight people who are open minded, so the show has come a long way. It’s getting picked up in all different cities and it’s like music to my ears when I hear that.
Oh my God, it’s one thing to hear the show has been picked up in London or France, but it’s another thing to hear the show has been picked up in Omaha, Nebraska or Louisville, Kentucky and just other places that you think wouldn’t be gay friendly.
Just wondering, are they as successful in those cities?
Well, I can’t go to all of them as much as I’d like to, but I did get to go to Kentucky to see the opening of My Big Gay Italian Funeral, and it was so amazing. What I do have a sense of, is because their gay community is so tight, a lot of them will support the show, where as here in NYC, the community is so big it takes them longer to go see the show.
I think a lot of times the straight community likes to see “gay” things more than the gay community does.
You know, you’re 100% right. One of the things we started in 2010, the manager said it would be very smart for you to stay and greet the audience after the show, so you know who your audience is. I’m always amazed to see how many ‘mostly women’, and gay tourists are coming in. You know we do get a great gay crowd, however. I get a lot of bachelorette parties, a lot of hair salons, which is very cool. They’re very supportive and I love the girls because they are loud.
That’s got to be so much fun!
We’re getting a lot now too and I love this! I have a lot of people who use the show as a venue to propose.
OMG, how genius is that!
Yeah, so we just had a couple propose last week – and I’m getting a lot of requests now for people wanting to propose at the end of the show. It’s really fun.
What an amazing idea.
It’s a great idea and I’ve done it a couple times. I have requests for both gay and straight couples. At the end of the show I throw the bouquet to whoever’s going to propose.
I love it!
It’s great – the whole cast stays on stage and everybody cries – it’s a lot of fun. It’s one of my favorite things.
OMG, what if they say “no”?
We haven’t had that happen yet – But I encourage anybody – if they want to propose, they should really reach out to me through Facebook or whatever! I’ll be happy to set them up with a nice fourth wall proposal.
That is such an amazing idea – how memorable for couples.
Especially now that it’s legal in New York; it just raises the possibilities for so many opportunities. I hope there will be more of that. It’s really an uplifting way to end the show.
How’s “The Funeral” going?
“The Funeral” is in its second year. I thought the funeral would be short lived, but it’s really doing well. So I’m going to keep that going as long as I can, too.
So now My Big Gay Italian Wedding is on Saturday at 8 and My Big Gay Italian Funeral is Sunday at 7? And the address once again is?
308 W 46th Street.
What’s the easiest way to get tickets?
You are actually in both plays?
I’m in both.
What do you play in the wedding?
You marry a straight guy?
Well, he is straight in real life – I marry Brandon. I’ve been marrying him for a year and a half, and he’s wonderful to work with.
Really quick, what’s the premise of the show?
It’s a story of a young American Italian male, who wants a traditional wedding and his parents will only allow it if he gets a Catholic priest to perform the ceremony and if he has his fiance Andrew’s mother attend. Both are pretty impossible. Andrew’s mother doesn’t accept the fact that he’s gay, and the Catholic Church won’t allow it. So Anthony’s dilemma is the wedding and it really is a laugh-out-loud comedy. The funeral is based on Anthony’s father, who has just passed and he’s forced to reunite with his gay brother Peter, who he hasn’t spoken to in 15 years. It’s the father’s death that brings them together. Throughout the show we learn why they haven’t spoken in all these years. It’s pretty much everything you can think of that can happen in a funeral home. We have a lot of flashbacks and one takes place at a club called Spectrum, which is the club I originally came out in.
Anthony, we went there together.
I was gonna say – yes we did. I do a flashback of how it was in the 90s and that’s probably one of the best moments in the show. I have a bunch of drag queens and a lot of live music and dancing and it’s fun. It’s a great story. It’s still a comedy; there are a couple of more touching moments, but for the most part it’s a comedy throughout.
Are you married in the funeral?
I’m single. People always ask me “When are you going to have a ‘Big Italian Wedding’?”
I remember when I was 26 and I originally wrote the “Wedding.” I had this big fantasy of a big – 300 people, in a big hall – but now that I’ve gotten married so many times on stage for the last 11 years, I really just wanna get married on the beach with like,10 people.
Now in the play, how Italian are you?
As Italian as I am in real life.
So you don’t even have to act too hard, do you?
No, people always get thrown by my last name, Wilkinson. My birth name is really Fiore. When I was 19 I took my stepfather’s name, Wilkinson. I always write what I know. When you write about what you know you can never go wrong. That’s why when everybody asks me what’s the next chapter…. I really wanna write ‘My Big Gay Italian Mid-Life Crisis’ and even though I feel like I’m living it now – I might still be a little too young to write it now. I’ll probably wait and write something in between.
If you get an influx of people wanting to see the show during the holidays, do you think you will add more shows?
As of today the show is on sale until the end of March, both shows. Yeah – the theater might call me to add some shows. I think last year we did wind up adding shows for the holidays. This time of year from Thanksgiving to Christmas I do so appreciate being in the theater business cause it’s just the most incredible time of year. It’s just a nice place to be.
I’d like to congratulate you on your Gay Icon Award.
The Icon of the Year – yeah, alright, I’ll tell that story. When I got the call from Johnny Pool that I was The Icon of the Year, I was very touched and flattered. Of course, I didn’t know what it was. But anyway, I had my whole family there and a bunch of friends and co-workers that came to support. I was so nervous. I got too wasted and when I gave my speech it made no sense; it was a five hour open bar.
Yes, I was there.
I was too nervous to eat, so all I did was drink. The thing started at 7 and I was called up to do my speech at 11:55. I had such a great speech prepared. By the time they announced me…..I was absolutely so trashed. I hope that clip never makes it on YouTube.
The only consolation I can offer was that everyone else in that room was also trashed.
Well, I could tell because the next day everyone told me what a good speech it was. And my sister-in-law who wasn’t drinking, looked at me and said, “That’s the worst speech I’ve ever heard. Everything that came out of your mouth made no sense!” I was like “Oh, perfect!”