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Road Trip: Stage Legend Jimmy Ferraro Brings My Big Italian Wedding Murder to Chicago

It has been 10 years since Jimmy Ferraro visited Fort Wayne in his iconic performance as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Long a mainstay on stages around the country and on Broadway, the New York native has performed in multiple roles in the legendary musical, notching more than 3000 Fiddler performances in his storied career.

But Ferraro is more than one big role, one famous musical. As he continued his career on stage, he also began thinking of ways to expand upon his possibilities, looking for ways to incorporate his own upbringing as an Italian New Yorker into his repertoire. He approached a friend about what some possibilities might be.

“In 2017 I was talking to my friend David Craven who I was directing in a show at the time and told him I wanted to do a fun murder mystery,” Ferraro said. “He said he’d already written some, and I knew I wanted to incorporate my background, which I certainly know about because of my big Italian family. It’s very stereotypical of an Italian family from New York with my aunts and cousins. And it felt like all my cousins got married in the late 70s, early 80s, so I knew I wanted to set it in the 80s with all the big hair, big food, big mouths.”

He and Craven started work on what was originally called “Marriage is Murder” but eventually became “My Big Italian Wedding Murder,” which runs from April 23 to May 15 at the Reveler in Chicago. Ferraro has been hoping to bring the show to Chicago for some time.

“I haven’t been to Chicago in 40 years when I was in a Fiddler national tour with Herschel Bernardi. I was in nursery school!”

Talking to Ferraro is like chatting it up with a longtime friend, his humor and warmth coming through on the phone. He is supremely talented, and when he launched “My Big Italian Wedding Murder” in his theatre in Florida, it was sold out in six weeks. He continued to have success with the show for two years before he was offered the opportunity to move to North Carolina and produce the show there. The structure of the show allowed for audiences to come to the show again and again.

“There’s a different killer every night so people can see the show, then come back and bring their families, and it’s never the same show night after night. The audiences aren’t required to participate, but it’s a very interactive show so if they want the audience can gather clues and try to solve the crime. It’s like going to a reception after a big Italian wedding, and the favors will all be familiar to anyone who’s ever been to an Italian wedding. I still have a brandy glass filled with Jordan almonds wrapped in tulle from my cousin’s wedding in 1974. And you know the Jordan almonds aren’t any harder now than they were then! The show is really just like going to a real Italian wedding, but you don’t have to bring a gift.”

That move to North Carolina seemed destined to the same success that the show had seen in Florida, but that move in the spring of 2020 was immediately followed by COVID when everything, particularly entertainment venues, shutdown. Ferraro spent the time writing, keeping his creative juices flowing, while waiting for venues to reopen. His dream of bringing the show to Chicago was finally possible when the mask mandate was dropped, and his merry cast of characters was finally able to descend upon the Windy City.

Happily busy with “My Big Italian Wedding Murder,” Ferraro doesn’t dismiss any possible return to “Fiddler on the Roof” down the road.

“I love playing Tevye. I love everything about Fiddler on the Roof.”

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