Barbara Lauren remembers the night in 2005 when she approached a gentleman seated on the groom’s side of the room during a performance of “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” at the Rio.
The chat began with a routine, “Where you from?” It ended with a recounting of a bar mitzvah on Long Island.
“I used to work the room, always in character, especially on the groom’s side,” says Lauren, a member of the cast since 2002, for the past 11 years as bombastic mother-in-law Josephine Vitale. Her final performance is in Wednesday’s closing of the production at Windows Showroom at Bally’s.
“I see this guy sitting down and ask him where he’s from, and he says, ‘New York,’ “ Lauren recalled about that night more than a decade ago.
“What part?” Lauren asked. “Long Island,” the man said. “What part of Long Island?” Lauren said. “Wantagh,” he said. “What part of Wantagh?” Lauren continued
“Forest City,” the man said.
For Lauren, this was hitting close to home.
“Did you know anyone on McClean Avenue?” she asked.
“Yes,” the man said. “Barbara Firkser.”
Which is Lauren’s maiden name.
“I had to take Barbara Firkser to a bar mitzvah,” the man continued. “My parents made me because my girlfriend was Catholic.”
Then the man paused and said, “You’re Barbara Firkser!”
Yep, the Italian mother of the bride was that date, as these two knew each other as kids from taking a ballroom dance class together. He later sent Lauren photos of that event. “I didn’t remember any of it,” she said, laughing. “But it was a sweet gesture.”
The memory is among the favorites of Lauren, who is a member of “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” from the show’s inception. Originally cast as the hostess Loretta and taking the Mrs. Vitale role in 2005, Lauren has performed in all of the show’s many Las Vegas Venues: Rio, then V Theater at Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, then the mezzanine level of Planet Hollywood, and finally, Windows Showroom.
Thus, Lauren is the show’s matriarch. She had not anticipated working in a Vegas show when she moved here in 1998 from L.A., where she had established a successful casting company. But Lauren soon saw a void in the Las Vegas casting industry, and opened her Barbara Lauren Casting agency.
Lauren also readily found opportunities onstage. By the time she hit Vegas, she had developed a rich performance background, on the first national tours of “Godspell” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” and as a member of the cast of “Hair” in L.A. and also on Broadway (where she replaced Diane Keaton in the ensemble).
Lauren also sang in “Folies Bergere” in London in 1977 and in the Vegas production at Tropicana a year later.
“I came to Las Vegas not to work anymore, but I saw a need for casting and started my agency here,” said Lauren, whose company recruits actors for such stage shows as “Baz – Star Crossed Love” at Palazzo Theater and such TV series as ABC’s “Modern Family” and Showtime’s “Dice.”
When “Tony N’ Tina’s” held its own casting call, Lauren auditioned and was lured to the show by one of the original producers from the New York production, Rafael Berko. She has since logged more than 5,000 shows over 14 years (including a seven-day-per-week schedule, and also when the show was performed twice a night). Her company has helped fill out the cast during “Tony N’ Tina’s” Las Vegas run.
“We’ve cast hundreds of talented people, and it’s just the joy of my life,” Lauren said. “I have no kids. These are my kids. It was an incredible experience for me.”
The cast has evolved considerably during the show’s stay in Vegas.
“When we started at the Rio, everybody was single and hooking up,” Lauren said. “Now everybody is married and has kids.”
The feeling around the production is that “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” will resurface anew somewhere in Las Vegas, maybe with a 1980s theme. When asked if she was confident in the show’s return, Lauren said, “I am, I am … Let’s just say I’m cautiously optimistic.”
John Katsilometes’ column runs Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the A section, and Fridays in Neon. He also hosts “Kats! On The Radio” Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on KUNV 91.5-FM and appears Wednesdays at 11 a.m. with Dayna Roselli on KTNV Channel 13. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.