Gay-Themed Joni and Gina’s Wedding Goes Straight … to the Cultural Hot Spot

Photo courtesy of Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel

Photo courtesy of Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel

Put the zeitgeist on the payroll.

With same-sex marriage legal in Nevada, the new interactive dinner show Joni and Gina’s Wedding—a Sapphic spin on Tony N’ Tina’s hetero nups—couldn’t have found a better political-cultural slingshot into the public consciousness. Or onto the Vegas scene, expanding from its long-running Los Angeles production.

What to do next? Take a good but ragged show—genuinely funny jokes and bits diluted by slack timing and tentative delivery—and turn it into a tighter, excellent show.

On a leisurely, introductory schedule at Ron DeCar’s Events Center and connected Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel—performances are alternate Thursdays—the show apes the Tony/Tina structure: Two quirky families come together for the joining of their offspring: Joni Gottlieb (Tala Marie, in the butch-ier, tuxedo-ish outfit) and Gina Spaulding (April Needham, who gets to wear the gown and be the more blushing of the brides).

After gathering in the reception hall, “guests” shift to the chapel for the wedding—conducted by a daffy gypsy of a minister with the groaner-joke name, Rev. Pat Miass (Andee Gibbs)—then shift back. (Seat yourself at the Wanda Sykes, Ellen DeGeneres or Jodie Foster tables.) Predictable but amusing family stereotypes abound.

On the Gottlieb side, it’s loud/East Coast/Jewish. Yenta mom (Anita Bean) with a voice built for kvetching, harasses her boorish ex (Lou De Meis, wearing an orange sport coat that would embarrass a Creamsicle) who totes along his spitfire Hispanic girlfriend (Olga Rios). Meanwhile another daughter (Amy Solomon), devout and socially awkward, turns a toast into endless Hebrew blessings.

On the Spaulding side, it’s white-bread/Midwestern/Christian: Military man dad (Troy Tinker), who wanted a pork-and-shrimp buffet but “couldn’t because of the Jews,” tries to contain his tipsy wife (Ginny Beall) while the straight, beefcake-y son (Brandon Burk) flirts with the ladies while trying to keep the flamboyant “man of honor” (Aaron Barry) out of his personal space. Meanwhile, the “best woman” (Amanda Kraft) stills lusts after Gina, her ex-girlfriend, and sneers at Joni, fueling the evening’s fireworks.

That finally gives Joni and Gina—who spend the first half smiling sweetly at the loons around them—a chance to jump into the comic fray, seasoned with gay double-entendres, a conga line, disco-dancing and the hora. Plus, the parents can’t suppress befuddlement at their daughters’ sexuality, but come around to acceptance, the evening ending in a sing-along to “That’s Amore.” (Relevant lyric: Hearts will play… like a gay tarantella.)

Mirroring a changing America, what once was attractive to a very niche audience is appealing to a wider demographic now. Joni and Gina draws laughs from its lesbian theme in a way that will be unnecessary someday, if “gay marriage” blends into just “marriage” in the public mind. That would make it redundant to Tony N’ Tina—a small, happy price to pay for normalizing gay marriage.

Until then, co-directors Troy Heard and Marianne Basford should smooth out the herky-jerky pacing and dead spots between jokes. Socio-political symbolism aside, it’s fine-tuned comedy that will carry this “wedding” over the threshold.

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