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Issue Date: February 2001 Issue


A Day in the Life of Lisa Ray


Linda Feagler

Friday, Dec. 8, 2000

6:30 a.m.

— As dawn breaks around her, Lisa Ray slips silently into the stage-door entrance to the Hanna Theatre. Dressed in a leather jacket, her hair tucked beneath a baseball cap, she's a stark contrast to the way Greater Clevelanders have come to know her: as the wise-cracking, gum-chewing bride Tina Vitale, co-star of the cabaret-style comedy, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding."

Read more about Lisa Ray's day by picking up Cleveland Magazine's February 2001 issue.
The show, which opened at the Hanna Theatre in September, parodies just about every nuptial nightmare imaginable. Partly scripted, partly improvised, "Tony n' Tina's Wedding" has something everyone can relate to on some level.

And, like the buffet supper of pasta and tossed salad served as part of the shtick, audiences are eating it up. This season's bone-chilling blizzards, which turned passersby into human popsicles, haven't discouraged theatergoers from getting into the act. Conga lines snake nightly down East 14th Street. The pile of gag gifts, ranging from a black lace bustier to a "Cleveland's A Plum" cookbook, grows steadily in the lobby. Saturday nights are sold out through March, and weeknight tickets are being snapped up fast.

6:45 a.m.

— The rest of their cohorts still in the sack, Ray and her on-stage groom, Ray Ficca (a.k.a. Tony Nunzio), enthusiastically prepare for an on-air interview at WGAR radio, part of a whirlwind of personal appearances they'll make this month to promote the show. The marketing blitz is paying off. Even the most confirmed couch potatoes who haven't been inside a theater since vaudeville know Tony and Tina. They're everywhere — on posters in store windows, on local TV and hosting benefits, such as tomorrow's Toys for Tots fund-raiser.

"When I think about Tina, I see a little girl of 5 prancing down the sidewalk in a new dress and shoes." Ray, who joined the "Tony n' Tina" cast three years ago in Oregon as pregnant bridesmaid Connie Mocogni, played Tina in Minneapolis and Baltimore before coming to Cleveland. Quiet, introspective and extremely private, she's a total 180 from her Italian alter ego.

With Duran Duran playing softly in the dressing room she normally shares with the show's dozen other actresses, Ray begins the 40-minute ritual that turns her into Tina. First comes the blue eyeliner, then the pink eyeshadow.

"When I think about Tina, I see a little girl of 5 prancing down the sidewalk in a new dress and shoes," Ray says. "As far as she's concerned, she could be Miss America."

12 p.m.

— Over a pot-roast lunch at Don's Lighthouse Grille, Ray reflects on what possessed her at age 5 to know and understand that she was destined to be a performer. A devout Flip Wilson fan, Ray staged puppet shows and skits while mimicking the comedian's "Geraldine" character. "I guess I'm just an attention hog," she concludes.

"I'm not getting rich in this life, but I'm doing OK." After earning her bachelor's degree in theater arts at the University of Portland, Ray performed in murder-mystery dinner-theater productions. She's been part of a U.S. Department of Defense show tour in Korea, Japan and Guam; and has acted in educational vignettes for Kaiser Permanente.

"People hear you're an ‘actress,' and immediately they think Gwyneth Paltrow," Ray muses. "I certainly don't consider myself to be a superstar. I'm just your typical workaday girl.

"I'm not getting rich in this life, but I'm doing OK."

2 p.m.

— Eight times a week, as vivacious Tina Vitale, Lisa Ray ties the knot. Soon the "I do" she utters will be the real thing.

On Oct. 2, she became engaged to Andy Weiland, who plays Tony's brother Johnny. The couple, who have been a twosome since St. Patrick's Day 1999, haven't set the date yet.

Armed with photos of gowns printed off the Internet, Ray enters Catan Bridal in Strongsville, ready for her first foray into the world of authentic wedding finery.

"I'm not a girlie girl," Ray tells store manager Toni Kennish. "I'm leaning toward something with a square neckline and a splash of color. But I'm an open book at this point. I'll know the dress when it catches my eye."

The bride-to-be carefully considers each selection Kennish hands her. "I feel like I should be in ‘Swan Lake,' " she says after disengaging herself from a beaded organza. "I could kill somebody in this," she jokes after putting the kibosh on a crinoline.

Ray readily admits that until very recently, matrimony and all that goes with it was something about which she never fantasized.

"I guess they call this the biological clock," she says. "And it finally started ticking for me this year. Andy and I are talking about buying a house, getting a puppy and starting a family."

"When I starting my acting career, it was about fun and adventure. Now, I like the idea of stability."

9:45 p.m.

— Theater doors locked, lights out. Ray and Weiland begin to unwind. They may go back to her place and talk until the wee hours of the morning. A gourmet cook, whom Ray says works wonders with a Crockpot, Weiland might make grilled steak or spaghetti for two. Some evenings they watch VH-1's "Behind the Music" or discuss best-sellers such as "Tuesdays With Morrie."

"When I starting my acting career, it was about fun and adventure," Ray reflects. "Now, I like the idea of stability, of putting down roots, of having a home. I think I'm pretty much done gallivanting across the country."


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