Tony and Tina are from the Bronx!
Last Saturday Grandma Nunzio led the cast and crew of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding around Arthur Avenue. I love when the whole Tony n’ Tina’s tribe, thirty of us, descend upon a place. It’s an instant wedding wherever we go. We stay in character. On this particular day, when my grandson son Johnny (the fierce and amazing Chris Lazzaro) got lost in the church alleyway, I yelled at him like Grandma Nunzio would. So, this being the Bronx, a lady across the street screamed at me, “Don’t curse in front of the church!” I didn’t even know I had cursed. I didn’t know what came out of my Grandma Nunzio mouth. All I knew was my grandson Johnny was locked in the alley behind wrought iron bars.
Arthur Avenue is the heart of the Bronx. And Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is the heart of Broadway. Get them both together and fagetaboutit! We crowded Egidio’s Pasticceria on 187th Street. My son Anthony, better known as Nunzio (the gorgeous Rick Pasqualone), ordered an espresso lungo, and Mike Black (the beautiful – all love Chris Di Pierro) got a box of eclairs and cannoli and napoleons for everybody. We began our tour at the church and ended at the rock – as it should be. At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on Ahun-Eighty-Seventh Street, (that’s right say it right Yo) some of the cast prayed, lit candles and looked at statues of saints. We sang a pushcart peddler cry on the street, “Chi mangi pesci mori mai!” (Who eats fish never dies!)
We made our way to Casa Nunzio – a house on Hughes and Ahun-Eighty-Sixth across from the Enrico Fermi Library. I picked this house to be the residence of our Nunzio family — cause I love this house — it exemplifies everything the Belmont neighborhood has been for the past hundred years to the diaspora of Italians. At this house you’re not in America. Let me explain. I performed in this house in 1996 when on the balcony, I asked the woman whose house it was back then, “Puppetta, what country do you live in?” Puppetta was a local resident I had met in the market, –the Arthur Avenue Retail Market. She came to my stand back then when I brought a piano into the market, rented a stall, and set up a two-year artist residency for my project “aSchapett!” I had a commission from Dancing In The Streets, to make site-specific community-based performance. Puppetta would sing and cook with us, and jump into improvisations I staged with artists, merchants, and residents. When I asked Puppetta what country she lived in, and gave her the microphone, to the hundreds of people that crowded her street corner for our show, she said, “Ahun-Eighty-Seventh Street.” Puppetta has long moved on. But there was her balcony across from the library and bakery, and here we were, thirty of us, the cast and crew, animating a bit of her history.
We entered the market through the back end on Hughes Ave, and right away Dave Greco, master chef of Mike’s Deli, greeted and fed us. Hot mozzarella made that moment was plated for us by Dave and his guys. Dave in his generosity sat us down, gave us a good Bronx talking to, and fed us to our hearts content. Capicola, mozzarella fresca, broccoli-rabe, melanzane, carciofi, salami, provolone… It was emotional for me walking into the market, a story too long to tell, but one that involves generations of my family. Suffice it to say, that in 1996, I had my Grandma Rose, who was 96 years young at the time, performing at the market “How to Make Cavateel” while my opera singers sang, and actors improvised with shoppers and merchants. Dave Greco told the cast how I had an acrobat stretch muzzarell’ across the aisle with him, ten feet long, over the audience. Arthur Avenue is a place of memories and nostalgia. An overwhelming amount of nostalgia.
Here we were, I with my new family, Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. The twenty-five year legacy of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding met the legacy of the Bronx head on. I felt like a true old timer — saying to the crowd “the chicken market used to be here” and “this is where the pushcart peddlers sang their wares” and “the market was constructed in 1939 — when Fiorello La Guardia wanted to clean up the streets and get all the hawkin’ and squawkin’ peddlers inside.” I remember being younger, and the old timers tellin’ me “I wish you could have seen it when I was young…” Bah! Now I’m the old timer! “Grandma Nunzio!
We ended our tour at a three-story outcropping of Bronx Gneiss, jutting up outta the sidewalk on Ahun-Eighty-Eighth Street. This rock is a billion years old. Granite. I brought the cast up a pile of snow to touch the rock – to touch the billion years. To know where we are, where we’ve been. That’s where we took photos. At the billion year mark. At the rock.
Tina (the gorgeous Marilia Angeline) picked out Casa Vitale up the street on Hoffman — a pink two-story family house with friendly plaster animals and chairs off the stoop. We were done for the day, a well-fed sated cast celebrating a twenty-five year old phenomenal show – in the billion year old Bronx, to a billion years of Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding! Touch Gneiss! And remember your grammar: i before e, except in the Bronx.
You can follow Annie Lanzillotto on Twitter at @lanzo