Dina Manzo — the most glamorous, and rational, star of The Real Housewives of New Jersey — dropped a bomb last week when she revealed she was departing the increasingly loony reality show. While bankruptcies, plastic surgery, and allegations of drugs, prostitution, violence, and pretend lesbianism swirl around her cast mates, Manzo called it a day.
But on Thursday, Manzo will gather with three of her former cast mates — sister Caroline Manzo, sister-in-law Jacqueline Laurita, and bestie Teresa Giudice — for a special performance of My Big Gay Italian Wedding, the off-Broadway comedy that Dina is coproducing. The show, at St. Luke's Theatre in New York, takes place as the Big Apple's gay-pride celebration kicks off; the performance serves as a fundraiser for Marriage Equality New York.
While Dina, who has a gay brother, declined to speak about controversial RHONJ's Danielle Staub's recent Sapphic forays (two weeks ago on Dina's blog, she rhetorically asked Staub, "Are you going to date a woman to prove to the world that you are so gay- friendly? I wouldn’t put it past you."), she had a lot to say about gay rights and possibly returning to the show.
Hi, Dina. How did you get involved with My Big Gay Italian Wedding?
I'm very dear friends with the writer, who's also one of the stars, Anthony Wilkinson. And I went to see the play. He had a preview of it in Staten Island, and I just loved it. I fell in love with what it stands for, obviously. I told him, "Now is the time to bring this a little further with gay marriage being in the spotlight. We can have people who were a little hesitant to approach the topic come and see it and laugh and see how heartfelt and funny it is, and approach it in a different way — open some other minds to the possibility of equality."
Is this your first time being a producer?
Yes, it is. I'm having fun. I don't think it's going to be my last production, that's for sure. And obviously, we're going places with this production, but I love the whole thing. Being part of the casting process was very exciting.
So what can people expect on Thursday?
Well, Thursday's going to be a lot of fun. Obviously, all the girls are going to be there. The play is just amazing. It has some really heartfelt points. Of course, it's hilarious. And what I love about this particular production is sometimes in certain plays you walk away and there's like one character that really stands out. But with this play, every single one of the characters you'll fall in love with. Except for maybe one, who's a sort of villain. Everyone is just hysterical, and everyone in the audience is going to relate on some level. And the jokes — some of them you won't catch until like a minute later, and you'll just die laughing.
Are you giving a speech at the party?
At the party I'll be saying a little something. The support that we've gotten from the community and everybody else is just amazing. Overwhelming. Like I said, this is a great way to reach out to people who might not have really approached the topic. My mother-in-law went to see it — and she's married to a priest's dad — and she just loved it. So here's somebody who had never really thought about gay marriage and what it means. She walked away with open eyes and really looking at things differently. That's really the point of it — to approach it from a different angle and have people laughing and walk away saying, "You know what? Everyone does deserve to get married. Everybody in love should have a chance."
Yes, absolutely. Since we started, a portion of the proceeds has gone to Broadway Impact, which is also for equality. And everything I do, I like to have it based on charity. So this is my part. And when we discussed the play, I said, "You know, I think it would be awesome if part of the ticket price goes to the cause." And of course, everybody agreed and thought it was a great idea. And to know that every single person who goes there is fighting for the cause is a great thing.
And this isn't your first time doing philanthropy. Tell us about Project Ladybug.
Project Ladybug I started...we're in our fourth year. It's for children with cancer. And I'm so proud to be the founder because it's really grown so much. And I have to thank Bravo for that. That something so wonderful could come out of something so crazy. Bravo gave Ladybug her wings, and now we're known nationwide, actually internationally. We raise money for the little things, the forgotten things, for these kids. Their birthday parties, their laptops, their clothes, their winter coats so they can be warm while they're going to chemotherapy. Right now we have a lot of national campaigns going on with it, like the "lucky locks," which is the red streak you've been seeing in my hair. So I'm just so proud to be a part of it. Everything that I'm doing right now — to use the voice that I have while people are still listening — is to try to teach people that giving back is so wonderful in so many ways. You surround yourself with like-minded people, which in turn, makes you so happy. So I'm just trying to spread that word. Do good and more good comes to you.
What's it like since the announcement came out last week that you're leaving the show?
It's been amazing. You know, the fans are so wonderful. I felt that in a way I was disappointing people for leaving. Some feel that I was running from it. A lot of them — 99% of the fans — understand why I'm leaving and support me and just have such wonderful things to say. I was actually crying reading my Facebook messages and tweets [on my Twitter page]; they're just so wonderful. I don't even deserve such wonderful people saying such wonderful things. To know you're touching so many people means a lot.
We spoke to Jill Zarin of The Real Housewives of New York recently and talked about how vested people are in the Housewives franchise.
Sometimes it's like a war zone. Somebody will say something off-color, then everybody will attack. And then I'm like, "Calm down, everybody!" It's amazing — the Housewives' cult following. I think, especially our franchise, so many people can relate to us. We're not this unreachable lifestyle. We're just real girls doing our thing. That's why so many people have taken to us.
How did Carolyn, Jacqueline, and Teresa respond when you said were leaving the show?
Super-supportive. Of course, they were bummed and they were like, "Just have your talk with [Staub] and we'll move on to fun things." But I knew, unless I really left, that was the only way to cut her out of my life. I had to do what I had to do for my sanity and my happiness.
You've had no contact with Danielle since your last confrontation on the show?
We've had no contact other than a Bravo event here or there when we're on opposite sides of the room.
Will you go to the reunion?
I have been invited to the reunion. I don't know. I feel like if I go back there, I'm just going to open this wound all over again. To go back there and sit on the couch for eight hours and argue with her is not something I'm into doing. But it depends. If I can go in and say a quick hello, let the fans know what we're up to, what Ladybug's up to, and then leave without getting into it, that's one thing. But I don't think I'm too interested in sitting there and arguing with her. You know, I left for a reason: to cut her out of my life. I haven't made up my mind yet, but I'm leaning toward no.
Would you consider returning to the show in a Danielle-less world?
I'm not going to be the one to say it's either her or I, so I'm just going to have to wait and see how that plays out and see who's cast. I mean, we don't even know if there is a season 3. They don't let us know that until toward the end of the season. Obviously, you know, people are so invested in us, you never know what can happen.