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He Lit Up Her Life as the Lights Dimmed on Broadway

Melanie Bowen said she will never forget the day she met Joe Pinzone, because a day later, on March 12, 2020, the lights on Broadway went dim.

“To me, that was when New York shut down,” said Ms. Bowen, 39, who in 2004 moved to New York City from Rochester, N.Y., to become an actor. That career path never panned out; after many auditions and a few waitress gigs, she found work as a human resources professional and now works at a hedge fund in Manhattan. Theater, though, always remained her biggest passion.

Mr. Pinzone, 41, a freelance casting director, swiped upon Ms. Bowen’s Hinge profile a few weeks before their first date on March 11, 2020, at Dominie’s, a bar in Queens. In getting to know one another, both were surprised by how much they had in common.

Each had moved to Astoria, Queens following a few years of living in Manhattan after college. They had grown up about an hour apart, she in Rochester and he in Buffalo. And by the time they sat face to face, both were concerned about a deadly virus that was just reaching New York.

“We spent a lot of our first date on the subject of, ‘What is happening in the world?’” Ms. Bowen said. “Everyone knew something was going on. We were in that place of, how bad is this going to be?” The date ended without a kiss, for Covid risk avoidance.

On their fourth date, Mr. Pinzone kissed Ms. Bowen through her mask. By their fifth, Mr. Pinzone said he had forgotten what the bottom half of Ms. Bowen’s face looked like, because of her constant mask wearing.

Ms. Bowen, who described herself as a germophobe, was by then falling for Mr. Pinzone. “He was very sweet,” she said. “We had been texting every day. I knew he was taking the relationship seriously.” So she took the lead and initiated their first lip-to-lip kiss on their fifth date. “I said, ‘screw it,’ and pulled his mask down,” she said.

Credit…Andy Buscemi
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That August, following a few more mostly outdoor dates, they became a couple. “I was like, I’m going to ask this girl to go steady,” Mr. Pinzone said. “We hadn’t even seen each other’s apartments because of Covid. But she was beautiful and I couldn’t stop thinking about her.” By September, each had told the other, “I love you.”

As the calendar flipped to 2021, Mr. Pinzone became ready to propose, but was nervous about it. He was 40 and, despite a healthy dating history, had never had a serious relationship. Ms. Bowen had been in several. When it came to love, he said, “I didn’t have anything to write home about. So with the proposal, I was thinking, don’t blow this, Joe.”

In March, he bought a ring. In April, led by Ms. Bowen’s love for Broadway, he started making phone calls to theaters to ask if he could rent their marquees. He wanted analog but most, he discovered, are digital. The IFC Center in Greenwich Village shows movies, not plays, but it fit the bill.

On April 18, before they were to meet friends for brunch at the nearby Market Table restaurant, he proposed just as the message on the marquee registered in Ms. Bowen’s eyes.

“Melanie, you are my star, my hero and love. Will you marry me?” it read.

Ms. Bowen, who clamped her hand over her masked mouth in surprise, produced a muffled, but very happy, “yes.”

On Dec. 18, they were married in Rochester at the Inn on Broadway, a hotel and event space, by their friend Shane Saldivar, who was ordained by the Universal Life Church for the occasion. Ms. Bowen said she hoped their 107 vaccinated guests went home feeling less down about the state of the pandemic-addled world.

“Covid is terrible,” she said. “But it definitely played a part in us slowing down enough to appreciate each moment.”

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