As some of you know, this past December I was in the right place at the right time and became the primary photographer on the set of 'The Late Night With Johnny P Show', which is filmed at the Time Warner Cable Community Television Studios in Arlington, Staten Island. Yes, *that* Staten Island. It may seem like Crazytown to a lot of you folks over the past few years, but what used to be known as 'The Forgotten Borough' is getting a lot more attention these days, and a lot of the times, it's for good reasons. This is a story about one of those good reasons.
For those of you unfamiliar with "The Late Night With Johnny P Show", it is recorded in front of a live studio audience by a crew of volunteer producers, directors, sound engineers, camera operators, art directors, digital editors, caterers etc. A lot of people, including myself, volunteer their time at the station, and we are all trained in what we do; as a matter of fact, it seems as if half of the crew went to the same media school as I did several years ago.
I was shooting at a taping of an episode of the show in early June. While I'm still relatively new, I'm quickly learning how TV production works, and how much work goes into every episode. I've also learned what a bunch of genuinely nice people work here, including Johnny Potenza, the producer of the show.
The episode recorded that night was Potenza's personal tribute to the late Angela "Big Ang" Raiola. Angela, as you know, lost her battle with cancer in February, and is sorely missed by a great many people. He called on his friend Mr. Staten Island, DJ Vinnie Medugno, to get some of Ang's friends together for a tribute show, and on June 2, 2016, the tribute show was taped on our North Shore.
Potenza lets us know right away that this is a show about remembering Big Ang as soon as he hits his mark on the stage; he rolls a clip of her on his show from August 23, 2012, which also featured the legendary Joe Franklin. Watching this clip was very emotional for everyone in the studio, including Potenza. He was good friends with Franklin, who was a mentor to him, and of course he was very fond of Big Ang.
Medugno, who also served as Potenza's co-host that night, began with saying it seemed weird to be putting "remembering" and "Big Ang" in the same sentence. Her death was still all so surreal to him as he and Ang were close friends, and this was apparent during the entire taping of the show.
Before the first guests are brought out, we are treated to a few songs from the musical guests for the evening, Disco Unlimited, who are a shimmering, glimmering, glittery orchestra of keyboards, guitars, drums, and fantastic singers.
Their first number, dedicated to Ang - who was certainly with us at the time - was "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel". This song was followed by one of Ang's favorite songs, "No More Tears (Enough is Enough)". Fabulous! A third track, "It's Raining Men", will be available as a bonus track soon to be released on You Tube.
I was really impressed by everyone in the band! What fabulous musicality! The ladies have incredible voices, and the musicians were tight. During rehearsal, the ladies sang an a capella harmony for a sound check, and they blew me away. These folks are real pros!
After the musical set, Potenza and Medugno sit down and have a little Hollywood Hamilton/Goumba Johnny type of banter where Medugno totally calls Potenza out on how unhappy he was with the size of his Peking Duck at dinner recently. It was a pretty funny story. What can I say about it except that "P" (as he likes to be called) needs to work on his Asian accent, and that Oriental Plaza *does* have amazing food, just like he says.
Potenza then says that the Late Night people wanted to do a tribute show for Ang that was "more to the heart", where people who were long-time friends with Ang could talk about the fun times, and not the kind of tribute show that becomes commercialized like the ones on basic cable. That's why Potenza called upon Medugno to host the show - because he knows a lot of people who were close with Ang, including himself.
He spoke about the Big Ang Dance Party that was planned for July, and that Ang's husband Neil Murphy wanted to do something special to remember her in the way of this dance party. They had a star-studded line-up of guests and entertainment, and wanted everyone to know that they were invited and that the proceeds would be donated to not-for-profits with which Ang was involved on the island.
Medugno had spent a great deal of time with Ang and her family, and he said she will always be with him wherever he goes. It's apparent that he had a great love for Ang, and has made a tremendous impact on his life.
The first guests of the evening were Teresa Aprea of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" and her husband, Rino Aprea, who is owner of both Ponte Vecchio Ristorante in Brooklyn andAngelo's of Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Teresa and Rino had known Big Ang for years; Rino said that Ang could always be counted on to get a party going, and Teresa said that has always made an impression on her - ever since her teen years hanging out in the clubs with Ang - and that she's blessed to have known her ever since.
The time I had behind-the-scenes with Teresa Aprea and her friends was spent having fun, dancing, and joking around with them, so I can totally imagine Ang and Teresa dancing up a storm. Watch the show, and check out the gams on her! Good lord, woman!
Rino also told some great stories about Ang coming into his restaurant at midnight wanting to order her favorite dish, octopus, when all he wanted was to go home to his wife… well, I won't spoil it, but it was hilarious. You'll have to watch the show. I can picture Ang rolling on the floor laughing at his reaction to her. Rino also spoke about how dedicated Ang was to her family and grandchildren. He was a great interview; so was Teresa, and as Medugno said, the Apreas are genuine, great people.
Up next was Jersey Shore's Uncle Nino and his "pimp cane". Nino was cracking us up with his jokes. He suggested that they "have this show in another building, like a church, so we can at least drink wine." Hey, I agree. He told a lot of fun stories about Ang, but was visibly choked up speaking of her at times.
Turns out that Nino knew Ang long before any of them became reality TV personalities. He spoke about their nights out at the disco, Hadaar's, which in the disco heyday was located on Clove Road on Staten Island. He said as soon as he found out that she was going to be on "Mob Wives", that he "knew she would make the show". She sure did bring that show a different kind of life, and it certainly kept me coming back for more.
During the interview with Uncle Nino, Potenza rolled a movie clip containing never-before-seen-footage of Medugno from his personal archives helping Ang pack for a move after being nominated to help her. They had planned to use the clip on an episode of Mob Wives, but the episode was never filmed. As Medugno said with love, "I now know why everyone ran away when it was time to move her." He also does a great impression of Ang's voice: "I move like gypsies; I throw everything in bags, I throw it in the car and then I figure out where I'm gonna move after that". Too funny.
Uncle Nino was followed by Disco Diva Carol Douglas, who is world-famous for her songs "Doctors Orders" and "Midnight Love Affair". I also learned that she was a winning contestant on "NameThat Tune" at the age of ten, her uncle is legendary R&B artist Sam Cooke, and that her mother, Minnie, is said to be the inspiration to Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher"! Carol was very good friends with Ang, and tells a few stories about their involvement with charities. She also showed off her autographed bottle of Big Ang Wine that Uncle Nino had found behind his chair earlier and was upset to find empty. So were we all.
The final guest of the evening was Ang's widower, Neil Murphy. Murphy talks a lot about the Big Ang Big Dance Party he was planning in July with the help of Medugno, Ang's lawyer Steve Spinelli, and promoter Gigi Neglia. The party would not only honor her memory, but the money raised by the event would be used to support some not-for-profit organizations that Ang championed and felt strongly about, such as education for special needs children in educational facilities such as The Hungerford School on Staten Island.
Murphy also stated that he wanted to donate the money to Staten Island communities to keep the money on Staten Island and help address the devastating heroin problem we have, and to also help support the island's LGBTQ community. These were all causes and communities about which Ang was passionate. Murphy said he felt as if he had to do something in her name, but he was "an Irish garbageman from Staten Island, what can I do?" Murphy says he'd like to do the show annually, and Potenza agrees that it's a good idea. (Author's note: He still does. This show was edited after the Big Ang Dance Party took place in July, and nothing was cut from the episode currently being aired. There was nothing but Big Ang love in the studio, and you can feel it. Just watch).
Potenza then asked Murphy about how the show Mob Wives had been playing the married couple up as 'estranged' at the end of its run. He said that claim was completely unfounded; "'Strange', yes, but not 'estranged'". Murphy was there for his wife whenever she asked; he explained that at first neither he nor anyone else really realized just how sick she was because she hid it. She didn't want anyone to know how bad she was, and she didn't want to have anyone around her; she had much tougher times than she let on, but make no mistake, her husband was there with her all the way through to the end.
To lighten things up a bit, Medugno related a great story about the outfit that Murphy was wearing for the show, and the story behind the knife cut in the pants as well as the Gucci shoes. Funny stuff! Murphy also told this great story about stopping at a biker bar in a place where you would never think they knew Ang. Sounded like they had great fun! Sorry I missed it.
Murphy also spoke about how Ang loved her big family and that who would have thought that at 43 years old he would have 6 grandchildren after eight years together with her?
The show ended with the usual thank-yous to everyone, including the caterers, Paulie from Nucci's, and Jerry from Seguine Bagels. As always, the eggplant parmigiana and little mini bagel sandwiches respectively are so New York you should cry for missing out on them.
And as always, if you wish to be a member of the studio audience, visit www.johnnyptv.com and complete the form; Johnny will answer you personally. He likes to know his audience.
Get home safe, goodnight!
Cathleen is a photographer, graphic designer, and currently enrolled in a certification program for photography and editing at Pace University.