Q&A: Breon Jenay
Las Vegas is often referred to as both the entertainment and wedding capitols of the world, but only Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding at Bally’s offers a combination of both—sort of. Breon Jenay plays bride Valentina Lynne Vitale at the immersive dinner theater experience that reopened inside Buca di Beppo restaurant this summer, and recently spoke with Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen about what it’s like to get married six nights a week.
How many times have you been married now? Are you keeping count?
For this edition of the show? I think like 32 times. I’m Tina pretty much full time now. Before I would play Connie and I would play Terry most of the time. There’s a lot of differences between the old show and the new show. We have a director now (Larry Pellegrini), so I think that’s a big difference.
Has it made things tighter? It seems like a fairly seamless production.
Absolutely. I think it makes all the difference because you can fall into a trap with this kind of show. People tend to have their own opinions on how every character should be, and if you don’t have an authority figure telling you, “Hey, this is what this character is like and this is how this character should act,” then you can get inundated with everyone’s opinions and things get watered down.
How long have you been with the production overall?
This is going on year five, in total. I joined the cast in 2012 and was back in 2016 after a two-year hiatus. And now here we are.
Was it easier to slip into the character because you had watched other people doing it?
I think so. I had played Tina before, but I think now having a director to say, “This is definitely good, and this you should definitely stay away from. This is who Tina is,” has helped me really come into this character, and having played the other characters for so long really helped me broaden my horizons as far as improvisation goes. When I started off I had very little experience with improv. I still don’t feel like I’m that good at improv (laughs) but in this avenue I feel like I made some strides.
Who is Tina?
She is this tough character who is kind of bratty, sort of gets her way all the time. She’s lovable but she’s bratty and this is her day, so the demons are coming out. She went to high school with Tony and they lived on the same street. Their parents, Tony’s dad and Tina’s mom, actually dated in high school, so they have some shared background. It gets a little weird.
Do you develop your own backstory for her?
What’s cool about this is you have these backstories already built into the show, and every production can kind of switch things up and change them depending on who’s playing, how old the Tony and Tina characters are, where exactly they met or grew up. That’s something that we establish early on with everybody: This is where you went to school, and this is what street you guys grew up on, and this is how you guys met, and this is where you work. These are all things that aren’t necessarily in the script but you figure it out early on.
How does having a bio for your character benefit the show?
Most of the stuff that I know about Tina is in regards to how Tony and Tina met and her parents, and relationships to other characters — things that don’t really get asked much in the show. It’s good to have them on deck because every once in a while a savvy audience member will whip out a question where you’re like, “Oookay!” And you gotta make sure everything lines up with everything else.
How did she meet Tony?
I believe they grew up in high school, but they grew up living one street away from each other. Their parents actually dated in high school, so the parents have a nice little background. Tony’s dad and Tina’s mom had dated, so it’s kind of weird.
You get the sense they have some history due to the animosity between them.
Yeah, it’s weird. They have this “we hate each other but we have this sexual tension thing” going on.
Where and how did Tony propose to Tina?
Tony proposed to Tina at (Brooklyn pizzeria) Spumoni Gardens and I like to tell people that he got the whole restaurant’s attention, told everyone shut up and got down on one knee and did the whole romantic thing.
What did they have planned for their honeymoon?
Costa Rica. Planet Hollywood and Costa Rica, but that’s another one of those things that isn’t set in stone. It’s for this particular cast.
Sorry about Tina’s dad, Vito. How did he pass away?
Tina’s dad was taking down the Christmas lights from the roof, and he fell off the roof. There’s a whole guilt thing with (Tony’s brother) Joey because I think that was supposed to be Joey’s job and he didn’t do it. Vito lost it, and that was it. That’s kind of another thing that’s built into the background of Tina’s character and kind of why she goes off the rails. She misses her dad, and he’s supposed to be there. It’s her wedding day, and mom eventually does the daddy-daughter dance with her brother. Things go downhill from there pretty bad.
Dancing is one of the opportunities for the cast to interact with the guests. You asked me to dance and didn’t break character at all. It made it easy to play along when you complained to me that Tony’s father grabbed your ass. How do you rehearse for a show like this?
For the rehearsal process for this show, we kind of just started off in the room, going through each character’s particular beats, and the big beats of the show itself. There’s things happening onstage that make the show flow, and then there’s beats happening around you that are little side stories. Every character has their own particular arc, and they’re coming in with their own motives. If you just invest yourself in one character and watch their storyline, you can come and see a different show every single time.
Is everyone in the cast trained actors?
Some people are definitely well-trained actors and have been doing some kind of performance for many years, and some are that character.
How would you describe your own training? Did you go to Las Vegas Academy of the Arts?
I did not go to LVA. I went to Sierra Vista High School, and I think in a lot of ways that was better for me because at LVA I would have been a very little fish in a very big pond, and probably wouldn’t have had the opportunities that I had at Sierra Vista. I got a lot of experience there. And then once I got out of high school I started auditioning for community theater things. I did a lot of community theater for a long time, and got a lot of experience out of that. Free workshops with people who were a big deal, and I got to do that for free.
There’s a lot of room for mishaps in an interactive dining show. Have you ever had a drunken wedding “guest” throw a wrench in the works?
You like to think you know what to do in certain situations, but every once in a while people will do things that throw you off your game. People tend to think, because you are in this show, other characters are touching you therefore they can touch you too. People have been grabbed, touched in ways they didn’t want to be touched. That tends to happen every once in a while. Sometimes an audience member will get overzealous, or maybe a little too drunk, and will start interacting during scripted things that are happening onstage.
The wedding dress looks it might be prone to wardrobe malfunction. Do you feel pretty safe wearing it?
Yeah, I do. I feel pretty comfortable wearing that dress, I guess because I’ve spent so much time in it now doing the show and promo stuff. It’s not uncomfortable. It’s a corset-backed dress and it holds everything in pretty well. That’s probably one of my biggest concerns, is that I’m going to be dancing and something’s going to pop out that you don’t want to pop out, but so far so good.
Who else have you played?
I started off as Terry the nun. The year I spent playing Terry was very, very beneficial to me as far as learning about improv and how to keep a conversation going with an audience member. Terry has a nice spark, I think, and she’s got a lot of wiggle room as well as far as interacting with guests, and she’s got a lot of … not down time, but she’s got a lot of time to interact whereas Tina’s go, go, go. She’s got a lot of beats and she’s got designated time to spend with the audience, but Terry’s kind of got a little more room there. That was kind of beneficial to me, to stretch out and learn some things with her. I really think once that part of your brain is activated that says, “Okay, we are improv-ing now and we are going to have this conversation as this person, just keep this going.” It’s really hard to turn that off once it’s on.
Are you the only cast member that conducts wedding ceremonies?
I think so. There may be other members of the cast that are ordained, but I’m pretty sure I’m the only one that does it for a living.
Were you drawn to that after you became part of Tony ‘N’ Tina?
Man, I don’t have any clue how this happened. I was hired at the Cosmopolitan back in the day to do fake weddings, so they hired me as an actor. They just needed someone with public speaking skills. Then they would actually do real weddings. They would bring someone else in to do those. And then another actress who worked with me, we decided, “Hey, we should just get ordained because we’re doing the same thing and they’re getting paid more,” then just kind of fell into it after that. It’s hard to break into the chapel business but once same-sex marriage was legalized all of a sudden there was a shortage of ministers who would do that. So that was my in, and from then on out I never stopped?
Where do you officiate weddings currently?
I do weddings for the Cosmo, and I do weddings for a chapel called Mon Bel Ami, and I also do private ceremonies for a woman named Bonnie Sanchez, who has had a business out here for many, many years and just needed someone to take over some of the runoff. She’s basically like my wedding agent. She kind of hooks me up with private ceremonies, so I really didn’t have to do any of the groundwork as far as establishing a business.
So basically just about every day you’re getting married or officiating a marriage?
Yeah, and I really have no idea how that happened. It was just this weird, serendipitous thing that happened.
Has your outlook on marriage changed since you’ve become involved with the show and became an officiant?
Yes, it has. You see some things as an officiant that aren’t particularly romantic, and every once in a while you come to see sometimes tears are not tears of joy. Which, you know … occupational hazard. I don’t want to get too deep into it and come off as a bad officiant, but sometimes people are getting married and you wonder, “Why is this happening?” It makes you think, but for the most part everyone is very much in love and doing it for the right reasons. You can tell when they are and when they’re not.
What do you think becomes of Tony and Tina after the honeymoon? Do they have longevity?
It’s not looking good for them just based on how things end, but I think that they have something that does have lasting power. They kind of need to go to couples counseling, figure some things out. Tina has still got that wild streak in her, and I think Tony is really ready to grow up. I don’t think Tina’s quite there yet.