By Bill Hirschman
And Michelle Solomon
You are invited to a wedding this month, well, a theater experience recreating a wedding. It may seem at first blush not your everyday wedding with the title Diego & Drew Say I Do, but actually it’s not the sexuality of the grooms that promise an unusual celebration. The plan is for the nuptials to be more notable for the carrying on of the guests than for the same-sex partners.
Matt May, who wrote and produced it with close friend Jennifer Sierra-Grobbelaar, said, “Jen and I started with the idea that, yes, these guys were going to be the normal calm collected people, the ones you are rooting for, and it’s the family that are drumming up all the craziness.”
The interactive Diego & Drew is returning to the Abdo New River Room at the Broward Center Feb. 6-16 for another round of musical serenades, dancing, a full dinner and improvised-on-the-spot comedy by 15 performers — all wrapped in an evening that is more carefully scripted and directed than the audience may suspect.
A twist on the popular Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding, audience members join in the show and become “guests” at the wedding reception of Diego Torres and Andrew Boudreaux III.
“You’re like a guest at the wedding: you can interact, you can jump and dance. From start to finish it’s just a good time at a party,”Sierra-Grobbelaar said. “We discovered in the creative process — after we had our title and had the theme — we discovered it’s not about a gay wedding. It’s about love, it’s about family.”
Audience members become part of what May and Sierra-Grobbelaar said are “eccentric, but lovable families.” There’s also an uptight wedding planner, a diva in drag, and an ex-boy band wedding singer.
This celebration has been tweaked and fine-tuned from its first staging in 2016 at the same location, which won a Silver Palm Award for outstanding interactive experience.
Some changes occurred simply because while some actors are returning, newcomers will invest their own spin as they interact with audience members. “Sabrina (Lynn Gore) is playing Drew’s mom and she’ll bring a whole new dynamic,” Sierra-Grobbelaar said. “We rely a lot on the skills and the experience from these cast members, especially the new ones, to give a little bit of that new life.” There also may be a new ending, they said two weeks ago.
The two writers met 13 years ago while both were working for the Broadway Across America tour producers. “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,” May said of what became their first foray as creators of a show.
May, a well-known director and producer, now runs a company called Verve Central Productions, which produces entertainment and special events. Sierra-Grobbelaar is currently director of marketing for the Broward Center for the Performing Arts.
The idea emerged around 2015, Sierra-Grobberlaar explained. “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, “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.”
May added, “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?’ “
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,” recalled Sierra-Grobbelaar.
A key player was director John Manzelli, who has since moved to Alabama. . “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,” said Sierra-Grobberlaar. “John (had) great intuition about what the motivation is behind the characters and what makes them tick. He found even more in our script than we realized was on the page when we wrote the words.”
During the world premiere engagement, the team made changes throughout the first week. “John Manzelli said we have three endings, so we made cuts and tweaks. By the second weekend it was pretty well set,” she said.
After the first run, they put it away for months. Then anticipating that they might tour it someday or at least license it for other productions, they made minor changes, tightening sections. Recently, May made further changes in Manzelli’s baseline direction, partly to accommodate the personalities of the new cast members.
A carryover from the earlier productions is the “soundtrack, which is actually another character in the show,” said 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 during 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, let May use one of his songs, too, in the show. “It’s an eclectic mix of music,” he said.
The current cast includes Benjamin-Michael Joseph Antipuna and Eric O’Keefe recreating their roles as the titular couple, plus familiar names like Gore, Christina Groom, Steven Chambers-Wilson, Jordon Armstrong, Madelin Marchant and R. Kent Wilson.
This new production has partnered with the World AIDS Museum and Education Center, so proceeds from a dollar dance during the party will go to the local charity.
Partly for publicity, partly to continue the fun, last month the producers hosted an engagement shower/reception at a local jewelers where the two lovebirds received custom-made rings.
A crucial fact to know, Sierra-Grobbelaar said. During the first production, people didn’t realize that their ticket bought them a full dinner. This year there’s a complete Southern/Puerto Rican feast including homemade cornbread, tossed salad, traditional arroz con pollo, succotash, plantains with spicy dipping sauce, a champagne toast and, of course, a wedding cake.
As for Sierra-Grobbelaar, “I’m looking forward to shrimp and grits.”
Diego & Drew Say I Do plays Feb. 6-16 with shows 7 p.m. Thursday-Friday, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 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 $65 and include a Southern/Puerto Rican buffet feast including arroz con pollo, shrimp and grits, succotash, wedding cake and a champagne toast. $120 VIP tickets are available for select performances, which include reserved seating, a cast meet-and-greet. 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.