By Michelle F. Solomon
If you had asked best friends Jennifer Sierra-Grobbelaar and Matt May a couple of years ago if they’d be getting ready to open an interactive gay wedding show at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, they’d say “who, us?” But, according to Sierra-Grobbelaar, “the universe pushes us in a direction at some point and this has pushed us here. And we’re so excited.”
Opening Thursday in the Abdo New River Room is Diego & Drew Say I Do, a twist on the popular Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding. Like Tony ‘n’ Tina’s, audience members join in the show and become “guests” at the wedding reception of Diego Torres and Andrew Boudreaux III.
So how much of the TNT format does Diego & Drew borrow from? TNT, which got its start in New York in 1988, but has played everywhere from Detroit to Las Vegas and in worldwide productions, follows a frame of dialogue, blocking and timing, while dance band music cues signal the actors to move to the next scene. The creators of TNT say 70 percent of the audience participation show is improvised.
“I believe our show is a bit more scripted,” says May, adding that it does have the same interactive structure. Audience members become part of what May and Sierra-Grobbelaar say are “eccentric, but lovable families.” There’s also an uptight wedding planner, a diva in drag, and an ex-boy band wedding singer.
“The soundtrack is actually another character in the show,” says Sierra-Grobbelaar, “and it really brings the story to life.” Original compositions, musical arrangements and recordings are credited to Maciej Osada-Sobczynski, a musician and arranger living in Poland.
May explains: “We knew we needed a strong soundtrack for the show and we wanted to use certain popular music, but we wanted to put our own unique twist on it and have our own music.” May had forged a friendship years ago with Osada-Sobczynski when he was an exchange student when both were in high school. “We’ve stayed in touch over 20-plus years. He’s been saying he wanted to work with me for years on a project. He jumped when I told him about Diego & Drew ” Another friend, a musician in Texas, is letting May use one of his songs, too, in the show. “It’s an eclectic mix of music,” he says.
Sierra-Grobbelaar and May say they have a lot of friends in the business that haven’t hesitated to pitch in. The co-authors are known in the South Florida theater community – he has a company called Verve Central Productions, which produces entertainment and special events, while she is the marketing and media relations director for Cirque Dreams. They are also both Carbonell Awards recommending panelists. “Each weekend we’re seeing two or three shows so we know what’s out there. It’s very exhilarating now to be part of that community from a creative side,” says Sierra-Grobberlaar.
They met 11 years ago while both were working for Broadway Across America. “I was director of education and Jenn was doing public relations so we worked together on tours and educational programs, but we’ve never done anything like this together. This is our first artistic foray in being creators of a show,” says May.
The idea for the show started “a little over a year ago,” Sierra-Grobberlaar explains. “We were out to dinner with Broward Center Programming Director Jill Kratish. They had just completed their multi-million dollar renovation.” Kratish shared her desire to have something “fun and interactive and entertaining” in the center’s new intimate dining and theater space, the Abdo New River Room. “A ding went off.” A few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day, the pair were going to see Cheyenne Jackson, the Broadway actor and 30 Rock and Glee star who was performing at Parker Playhouse
“We were sitting at this fabulous wine and tapas bar in Wilton Manors, The Naked Grape, and we started to conceive and come up with the concept for Diego & Drew Say I Do ”
They say they wrote and wrote and wrote, had a reading and a workshop and Broward Center management was “getting excited about it and all of a sudden we were booked there,” recalls Sierra-Grobbelaar.
John Manzelli directs and the co-creators say he’s given them another level of confidence about their world premiere. “From the first moment we started discussing what the project was to our first workshop where John helped get it up on its feet in front of a small audience, we knew that he really got what the play was all about,” says Sierra-Grobberlaar. “John has great intuition about what the motivation is behind the characters and what makes them tick. He has found even more in our script than we realized was on the page when we wrote the words.”
Making the show truly a local effort from the ground up are the 15 cast members, who are all actors from South Florida, “which is a testament to the talent here,” says Sierra-Grobberlaar.
The ensemble features Benny Antipuna and Eric O’Keefe in the title roles of Diego and Drew. The Torres family: Sharyn Peoples (Lourdes, Diego’s mother), Cesar Arguelles (Santiago, Diego’s father), Vanessa Elise (Tia Mari, Diego’s aunt) and Dominic Smith (Max, Diego’s brother). The Boudreaux family: Merry Jo Cortada (Ginny, Drew’s mom), Steven Wilson-Chambers (Andrew II, Drew’s dad) and Mark Kroczynski (Big Daddy, Drew’s grandad).
Other wedding party members are Danielle Tabino (Shelby, Drew’s high school sweetheart), Cannon Starnes (Bo, Ginny’s boyfriend), Kent Wilson-Chambers (Raven, the officiant, Raven), Jeffrey Bruce (Chauncy, the wedding planner), Meagan Nagy (Stacy, social media maven) and Mike Westrich (Vance, the wedding emcee). Lighting design is by Jamie Copper, India Davison is wardrobe supervisor, and Carey Hart is stage manager.
Diego & Drew is a concept that could play anywhere in the country especially since in 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled all state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.
“One of the things that Jen and I talked about early on is that Diego and Drew are ‘normal’ and all of the other people are the dysfunctional problem children around them. When the night is over, we hope people are saying that was so much fun, what a great wedding. And for people who might be experiencing something new, we hope they say, ‘it was two guys,’ then, ‘but anyway, what about when this (moment in the show) happened?’ ”
The co-creators share that they have reached out to a number of presenters across the United States, in hopes they’ll come and see the show and want to bring it to their theaters.
Says Sierra-Grobbelaar: “This story isn’t just about two guys that live in South Florida, it’s about two guys and their families who could live anywhere.”
Diego & Drew Say I Do will run Thursday, March 31 through Sunday, April 10 with shows 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday 4 p.m. Saturday, 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Sunday at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in the Abdo New River Room, 201 S.W. 5th Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets are $59.50 and include a Southern/Puerto Rican buffet feast including arroz con collo, shrimp and grits, succotash, wedding cake and a champagne toast. $105 VIP tickets are available for select performances, which include reserved seating, a cast meet-and-greet and signed show poster. A cash bar is also available. Tickets at www.browardcenter.org or ticketmaster.com, by phone at (954) 462-0222, or at the Broward Center box office.