August 30, 2010 at 10:19 PM EDT

If you’ve been getting anxious at the thought of the impending Real Housewives of New Jersey-less future, fear not, for the Jersey ladies aren’t going anywhere. Danielle Staub has a budding singing career, and now her fellow cast members are preparing to make their (Off) Broadway debut. Beginning on September 1, Caroline Manzo, Lauren Manzo, Teresa Giudice, Jacqueline Laurita, and Ashley Holmes will star in four performances of My Big Gay Italian Wedding, with proceeds going to Marriage Equality New York.

“I have zero experience. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, I can’t act,” Caroline said during EW’s recent visit to rehearsal. She was the self-assured matriarch we’ve come to expect during a choreography run through, assuring cast members that she would have the steps down by opening night. “I’ll get it, don’t worry,” she insisted, even if it required the help of “three or four mojitos before the show.” The ladies took dance practice seriously, despite not having any musical theater background. “Can we get the music on a CD so I can do it in my kitchen?” Caroline asked. Sister-in-law Jacqueline had another idea: “Unless you call us on the phone and you can sing to us. I’m going to put you on speaker,” she joked to Wedding regulars. Jacqueline was goofing off during practice for the Lady Gaga meets Chicken Dance choreography, which was a nice change from how we usually see her on the show (naively trusting the likes of Danielle or Kim G. and later getting burned, or, fighting with her daughter Ashley). “I think it’s fun, it’s something out of your comfort zone. We’re having a good time with it for sure,” she said.

For the women, raising awareness for Marriage Equality New York is more important than how well any of them can sing or dance come opening night. “I have a gay brother, so this is near and dear to my heart,” said Caroline, whose sister and former Housewives star Dina is also a producer of the show. Added Jacqueline, “And you know not one of us is taking any money off this. I know some people were saying, ‘Oh they’re probably getting paid.’ None of us are getting a dime. It’s all for charity, and we wanted to do it.” The reality show has had its controversial moments over the last two seasons — Danielle taking offense to Joe Giudice’s use of the word “gay” in season one, Danielle’s friend/resident thug Danny calling Christopher Manzo a f—– in season two — but Caroline insisted that the decision to perform in this particular show was not an attempt to dispel any ideas of homophobia among the cast members. “I could care less about public opinion, okay?” she said. “This is for my brother. This is for the trials and tribulations that I have seen him go through in his lifetime, coming out, and the stereotype, and the sometimes prejudice towards it. This is for my brother, it has nothing to do with the show at all.”

So if all goes well, will there be a musical future for these women? (Can’t you see a Von Trapp children number featuring Albie, Lauren, and Christopher Manzo? No? A girl can dream.) “It’s funny because I do want to get into acting, I think,” said Ashley, Jacqueline’s 19-year-old daughter, whose infamous hair pull at the North Jersey Country Club and its aftermath carried much of the past season’s storyline. As for her less than glowing portrayal on the show? “Am I bratty with my mom at times I shouldn’t be? Absolutely,” she explained. “I know that I can be disrespectful, you know but also I’m 19, you know a typical teenager. I fight with my mom [and] it’s kind of like what’s going to be better TV? Like you know my mom and I getting along, or you know the drama aspect of it?” Casting directors take note: She’s all yours.

But before the curtain rises on Wednesday comes tonight’s RHONJ reunion (part one), which Jacqueline described as “explosive” and “unexpected.” After two seasons of table flipping and hair pulling — and with the future of the show and its cast members in questionthe Andy Cohen-moderated discussion will leave everything on the proverbial table. “It was personal to me,” said Caroline’s daughter Lauren, who was onset but not on camera as a makeup artist for the reunion. “I’m sure when you watch and see, just try to put yourself in my shoes for not being able to go out on camera and say what I wanted to say.” And for those skeptical of the “reality” element of the show, apparently things in Jersey can get a lot more heated when Bravo isn’t around. “It’s actually probably worse off camera,” joked Jacqueline, who said she hadn’t seen Danielle since the filming of the reunion about a month ago. “Actually, we might even tone it down a bit [on camera].”

What are you more excited for: the Housewives performing live on stage for a good cause, or Teresa pushing our dear friend Andy Cohen?

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