If there’s one thing actress and vocalist Anika Noni Rose knows well, it’s the importance of timing. Whether it’s hitting her marks on stage, holding tempo in a song, perfectly delivering a line in her latest show Let the Right One In, or falling in love, timing matters. Anika first met fellow actor Jason Dirden in 2014 when both were cast in the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun. “We were friends for a couple of years, actually,” Anika says, but the timing just wasn’t right. “We both went off and did our own things and were disconnected for a while and then swung back.” A few years later, they had the timing down pat. “It was the right moment for both of us to be open and available for the possibility of what we have now,” Jason explains.
The duo kept their relationship quiet for years—until now, neither have publicly announced that they were dating, let alone engaged or married. “Neither one of us really planned to end up with somebody in the business,” Anika explains. Still, it works for them, and that’s largely because they keep shop talk out of their day-to-day lives. “We have fun. We laugh a lot, which is really, really important. And we don't talk so much about the business.” That ability to laugh and have fun is what Jason says initially drew him to Anika. “When we first worked together, that's what drew us in together as friends. This woman is so silly. She has a four year old child living inside of her that will never go away,” he laughs. “She loves to prank people, and she has that kind of spontaneous silliness to her that allowed us both to release any type of armor, or any type of defense mechanism, and allowed us to really just be who we are with each other. We created this friendship walking 60 blocks from rehearsal to the gym, just talking about life, or about anything really. It had nothing to do with the play that we were working on. There’s always been that kind of comfort and ease between us.”
In December of 2021, Jason planned to take that friendship-turned romance to the next level. Anika joined his family’s annual Secret Santa Zoom expecting nothing more than holiday cheer, but it became abundantly clear that something more was happening when she noticed that her parents, brother, nephews, and close friends had all joined the call. “Jason played a beautiful video he created of our time together, underscored by Norah Jones’ ‘Come Away With Me,”’ and a phone conversation between Jason and his dad about love, partnership, and Jason’s desire to propose,” she remembers. “When the video ended, with all our friends and family watching, he went to one knee and asked me to marry him.”
The pair was ready to tie the knot, but busy work schedules on opposite coasts made it difficult to nail down the time or the place. In the end, both Anika and Jason had a free window in late October, and knew they had to make it work. The only catch? That meant they would have to dream up their perfect day in just about two months. “We didn't plan to only have eight weeks to plan a wedding,” Jason adds. “We planned to have a year.” After considering their options—the two were seriously toying with the idea of a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard, where Anika spent a great deal of time as a child—Los Angeles, near where they live, made the most sense. From there, they had to build their plans entirely from scratch. “I didn't grow up dreaming about a wedding,” Anika explains. “That just wasn't me. I know some girls who had dresses picked out at 12.” And with a condensed time frame, that meant the two had to make decisions quickly.
The next problem they faced? Planning a wedding turned out to be far more involved than they thought it would be. “One thing that I thought would be really easy but was actually insanely difficult was planning a wedding,” Anika laughs. As extremely hands-on people, neither she nor Jason were comfortable making decisions from afar—they wanted to see the elements coming together, to touch the rentals, and visualize the potential of a space. “We never wanted to hire someone to create a day for us, and then we just show up,” Jason says. “That wouldn't make us happy at all.” So, they booked the Paramour Estate, a property that dates back to 1923 and was called “The Most Beautiful Home in Hollywood” at the time, and set the date for October 16, 2022. Since they knew they couldn’t do it all on their own, they tapped Stacey Thomas of the Philadelphia Wedding Chapel and Vows on the Vineyard to serve as their coordinator, then hired Adonye Jaja Photography to capture every colorful, personal detail.
Personalization was a major theme for the bride and groom: They wanted the wedding to be a true reflection of who they are as a couple, and that started with the invitations. Though Anika and Jason were prepared to outsource when necessary, they did want to take on a few DIY projects, so they used Basic Invite to create a customized wedding invitation to share with their loved ones. Inspired by that success, they also created their very own ceremony programs, dinner menus, and guestbook to coordinate.
While Anika didn’t grow up envisioning her wedding dress, she did quickly establish a vision for what she wanted to look like on the big day: She knew she wanted to work with Gbemi Okunlola of Alonuko Bridal, a London-based designer, on a custom gown that would be entirely her own. “When we met, we talked about the story we wanted to tell with the dress,” Anika explains of the design process. “[Our vision was] that of a rose coming into full bloom, but without being too fussy. I also didn’t want anything I could wear on a red carpet.” The final result? A stunning gown featuring an illusion tulle bodice embroidered with thousands of Japanese micro luster beads, which cascaded down onto the skirt. As an extra-special finishing touch, Anika’s gown also featured handmade organza flowers created from her mother’s own wedding dress, which were laid beneath the top layers of tulle.
Gbemi also used the sleeves of the bride’s mother’s dress to create a custom sleeve to hold her bridal bouquet, which Schentell Nunn of Offerings arranged using distant drum roses, clematis, and faith roses in shades of purple, coral, and blush with plenty of greenery mixed in. “I knew I wanted those things as a tribute to my mommy and her love, and it was a surprise for her,” Anika explains.
She finished her bridal ensemble with a pair of Badgley Mischka “Nicolitie” stilettos, a pair of white gold sapphire and diamond earrings (a gift from her matron of honor), and a vintage handkerchief embroidered with blue flowers (a gift from her aunt).
Anika’s beauty look was carefully considered, too. “I wanted to look soft and pretty. Touchable. Ethereal and dreamy, and fully myself,” she explains. To that end, her makeup artist played up her eyes and accentuated her glowy skin, but otherwise kept things simple. A soft, natural updo ensured her hair looked effortless.
Jason chose a custom look, too. He tapped Wayne Willis of Well Groomed Man to create his single-breasted salmon wool suit and silk-charmeuse pleated tuxedo. His accessory of choice? A pair of flamingo-printed socks Anika had gifted him years ago. “The pink matched really well with the suit and allowed it to be business on the top and playful and fun on the bottom,” he says.
The couple’s wedding party was outfitted in similarly colorful ensembles. Anika’s bridesmaids donned pink one-shouldered gowns from Simin Couture while the groomsmen matched Jason in salmon-hued suits. Bridesmaids also carried smaller versions of Anika’s bouquet. Anika gifted her bridesmaids pre-wedding facials by Tracy Hudson Skincare and Buttah skin products.
The ceremony, which was officiated by Euphoria star Colman Domingo, took place on the lawn at the Paramour Estate, something that was hugely important to the bride as they researched possible wedding venues. To highlight the natural beauty of the property’s outdoor areas, Anika and Jason asked the team at Offerings to create a simple circular backdrop with plenty of fresh flowers. The goal was to tell a color story throughout the day, beginning with lighter blooms during the ceremony, then moving into richer, bolder colors for the reception. “The space was so gorgeous and natural that we didn’t want to overwhelm it with flowers. We just wanted them to enhance what nature had given us,” Anika explains.
The right ceremony music was also important to the couple. Anika and Jason knew they wanted a string quartet, but they knew that the performers they hired had to tick another important box: To make this part of their celebration even more special, the couple wanted musicians who could also provide a vocalist for Anika’s entrance and their recessional. DreamPlug string quartet, which was recommended to the bride and groom by Anika’s matron of honor, was able to deliver. “I wanted people who understood music, both classical and contemporary, and who could do justice to the vocals,” Anika explains. “The DreamPlug quartet has all of that, are extremely professional, and just a wonderful addition to any event.” Because the couple didn’t want musical selections that were too expected or overdone, they worked with vocalist Bianca McClure and the quartet to curate a selection of classical and contemporary choices that were played during the prelude. Jason and his groomsmen entered to Stevie Wonder’s “Knocks Me Off My Feet” before the quartet transitioned into the opening bars of the “Wedding March.” Then, Bianca McClure and Chrys Ryan sang “Best Part” by H.E.R. and Daniel Caesar as Anika, escorted by her father, made her way down the flower-lined aisle.
The couple decided to exchange vows they wrote themselves. “Without consulting each other we ended up using the same phrase at the end of each [of our vows]. We couldn’t have planned it better,” Anika remembers. After they were officially announced Mr. and Mrs. Jason Dirden, the couple recessed back up the aisle to “As” by Stevie Wonder. “We both love Stevie Wonder. If we could have kidnapped him and had him there, then he would have been there!” Anika laughs.
Guests then moved to cocktail hour, where they were able to enjoy more music from the string quartet performed (instrumental versions of Bruno Mars and Nina Simone hits were some of the top crowd-pleasers) and tray-passed appetizers. Two signature cocktails and a mocktail were also on offer: Anika and Jason served the “Dirty Rose” margarita (which was made with Blanco tequila and muddled strawberries), the “Berry Bourbon Bouquet” (which featured bourbon, blackberries, and lemon juice), and the “Garden Party” (a non-alcoholic option featuring Seedlip, agave, and fresh lime).
There, attendees also found their seating assignments for the night, which were hand-written by the bride’s aunt (“I’ve loved my aunt’s handwriting since I was a child,” Anika explains). Those seating assignments were very carefully considered: Anika and Jason say they “agonized” over the seating chart—not because there was anyone they needed to worry about sitting with strangers, but because they really wanted their loved ones to be able to forge meaningful connections throughout the course of the night. “I think we did a really good job because people left with other people's telephone numbers,” Anika laughs. “A friend of Jason’s who lives in Houston visited a cousin of mine who lives in Dallas!”
The reception, which also took place outside, was made up from a mix of round and rectangular tables that were topped with fresh flowers and plenty of candles. A variety of different centerpieces—which were made from mixes that contained focal flowers like dahlias, roses, and ranunculus—were designed specifically to enhance the space but not interfere with guest interaction. “Schentell understood exactly what we meant and was a joy to create with,” Anika says. “When we nailed down how we wanted the colors to progress, it was so very exciting.”
Once guests were seated, the couple projected Jason’s engagement video on an exterior wall for everyone to watch. This gave Anika an opportunity to change into her reception dress, a cocktail-length ostrich feather dress from Simin Couture, which gave the bride plenty of freedom to dance. The plan was for the duo to enter and begin their choreographed first dance, which had been set to Norah Jones’ “Come Away With Me,” as soon as the video ended. A few days before the wedding, Anika decided that she wanted to re-record the song (which has been an important part of their relationship and was playing during the proposal) as a way to surprise Jason during the reception. The one hiccup? That week was incredibly busy, which meant the only time Anika could actually sneak away was the day before the wedding. She told Jason she was doing press for her show, Let the Right One In, and spent just about an hour working in a recording studio to perfect her version. “The only other person who knew that this was happening was the DJ,” Anika says. “I saw the moment Jason realized it was me singing. Meanwhile, my family knew it was me from the moment the first beat dropped! Jason was so focused on the dance that it took him about two lines in before he had that Ah moment.” As for Jason? “My first thought was: I did not know I was marrying a liar!” he jokes. “It was so moving, so magical, and something I would have never expected.”
The choreographed first dance proved to be one of the most spectacular moments of the entire day. Once the song finished, the bride and groom quickly moved back inside to snap a few photos, but they heard their guests cheering from their seats. “That’s not usually how they see us,” Anika explains. Jason adds, “It gave everyone a peek into our relationship, how we move together.”
Before they could open up the dance floor, Anika and Jason knew they wanted to fortify their guests with a great meal. The sit-down dinner consisted of a farmers’ market salad and three entrée choices—chicken Marbella with apricots, olives, and capers; lemon and herb-crusted halibut with spiced fruit chutney, or a saffron risotto—all prepared by Alligator Pear Catering. Finding that caterer was actually one of the hardest parts of the entire planning process, the couple say. Initially, they had wanted to work with a favorite local restaurant, but they backed out two weeks before the wedding. Jason jumped into planning mode and started researching local options, and they say they couldn’t have been happier with the pivot, which he was able to nail down in just 40 minutes. “It was a blessing, because we ended up finding a fabulous catering company,” Anika says. “The service was impeccable, the people were really nice, which was a big difference, and the food was delicious!”
They say that experience taught them one of their most valuable wedding planning lessons: Know when to let go. “You're not going to have everything you want,” Anika says. “And what you find is when you let go, sometimes you end up with what you wanted.”
Luckily, dessert was very easy to figure out: Anika’s cousin, Maria B. Rose, owns Boston-based Tiered Cake Shoppe, and she asked the couple early on if she could create their wedding cake. “Let me be very clear: I don’t hire family because they’re family,” Anika says. “We hired her because she’s fantastic.” In the days leading up to the wedding, Maria baked, froze, and shipped the cake from the east coast to California, then flew with 30 pounds of buttercream. The final product, a three-tiered vanilla cake with apricot filling and white chocolate frosting, was such a hit that there was barely anything left for the couple to take home after the wedding. “Someone ate half of the top of the cake, and all we could do was laugh because it was delicious!” Anika says.
And that wasn’t the only dessert on offer, either. Jason’s mother has made cookies his entire life (“They are the best,” he says), so he had the idea of sharing them with guests during the reception. “I really wanted my mother to be a part of this day, so instead of having the groom’s cake, I had my mom make the groom’s cookies,” he says. All in all, she baked three of her signature varieties: chocolate chip, oatmeal, and vanilla pecan puff. “We had them displayed on tiers so they looked beautiful. It meant a lot to have her as an integral part of our day.”
Once dinner and dessert were over, it was time for the party to really start. The duo knew they wanted a great DJ who could read the room and keep the party going, so they hired George 2.0 (one of Jason’s college friends who has worked with various artists as both DJ and stage manager including Janelle Monae!), and gave him some loose guidance, but ultimately trusted him to do what he does best. “George is absolutely fantastic!” Anika says. “He could not have been better! He knows how to get a party going and keep it going. His musical curation of our day had us all loving, laughing, and getting it in! But more importantly, his spirit matched and even enhanced the wonderful vibe.” It was important to both Anika and Jason that the day’s music would appeal to guests of all ages, and they say George delivered. “Colman Domingo, our officiant, started doing the electric slide, which is something that I never thought was going to be at my wedding, but it was so much fun!” Anika says. “Everybody knows a line dance, so all ages danced to that—there was an intergenerational joy and connection that was so fun to see.” And the party only continued to pick up steam as the night went on: “We even had some impromptu dance battles!” Jason laughs.
To have even more freedom to dance, Anika snuck away once more for her third and final outfit change: She traded her strapless dress and heels for an ivory jumpsuit from Zara and Birkenstock sneakers.
Before the night was over, Anika and Jason snuck away to enjoy a special experience: The duo love to ride bikes together, and one of Jason’s requests for the day was to have a tandem bike at the wedding. One of Anika’s cousins found a vintage tandem bike on eBay and rented it for the couple as a wedding gift; the initial plan had been just to display it for guests to see, but when their photographer saw it, he said they absolutely had to take it for a ride. “It was probably 9:30 and Adonye said, ‘Hey, let’s get you on the bike!’ and by then I had forgotten all about it,” Anika remembers. Though it was a little wobbly at first, the couple ultimately got the hang of it and were able to ride around the entrance of the venue. “It was so much fun,” Jason remembers.
After looking back on the day, Anika has an important piece of advice to share with future brides and grooms: Don’t expect your wedding day to be perfect. “My grandma always told me, ‘Every kick is a boost,’” Anika says. “Things are going to go wrong, but everything that went ‘wrong’ during our planning was followed by something better. You may find that your ‘plan b’ couldn’t be more perfect. We sure did.”
Wedding Photography Adonye Jaja Photography
Second Shooter Erik Clausen
Wedding Venue The Paramour Estate
Day-Of Coordination Stacey Thomas of the Philadelphia Wedding Chapel and Vows on the Vineyard
Floral Design Schentell Nunn of Offerings
Bride's Wedding Dress and Veil Gbemi Okunlola of Alonuko Bridal
Bride's Shoes Badgley Mischka
Bride's Jewelry Jennifer Meyer Jewelry
Bride's Hair Cynthia Alvarez
Bride's Makeup Ernesto Casillas
Vintage Gown Refurbishment The French Cleaner
Engagement Ring Frank Gomez of G Creations Inc. and Antoinette Matlins, PG, FGA
Wedding Bands Frank Gomez of G Creations Inc and Niwaka
Groom's Attire Wayne Willis of Well Groomed Man
Ring Bearer, Usher, and Father of the Bride's Bow Tie and Pocket Square My Bowtiful Creations
Bride's Reception Dress Simin Couture
Bride's Reception Jumpsuit Zara
Bridesmaids' Dresses Simin Couture
Groomsmen's Attire Wayne Willis of Well Groomed Man
Ceremony and Cocktail Music DreamPlug Quartet
DJ George 2.0
First Dance Choreography Brittany Russell
Catering Alligator Pear Catering
Barservice Liquid Catering
Wedding Cake Maria B. Rose of Tiered Cake Shoppe
Rentals Premiere Party Rents
Invitations and Paper Goods Basic Invite
Favors Fine & Raw
Art for Welcome Sign and Custom Favor Wrapper Jennifer L. Meyer
Lighting Pro Lighting Rental
Videography Elysium Productions