Presented by Orchard Street Productions, the show is written and produced by Jay Kholos, a newcomer to musical theatre-writing who has turned a tale about the New York immigrant experience into gold. The show began its open-ended run July 8 at the Mazer Theatre on the Lower East Side. It plays as many as 10 performances a week with a large non-union cast that rotates in shows. Its opening was Aug. 7.
Some of the New York cast will make up the Florida company, with recasting expected for Manhattan.
The open-ended Florida run begins April 14 at the Stage Door 26th Street Theatre at 1444 N.E. 26th Street in Wilton Manners. For ticket information, call (954) 344-7765.
The writing of the show was inspired by a visit by Kholos to The Lower East Side Tenement Museum. A Stoop on Orchard Street is a new musical "that brings to life the colorful and often trying world that was the Lower East Side around 1910," It follows the trials and tribulations of the Lomansky family, as they adjust to a new life in America after leaving Eastern Europe.
In September 2003, the producer reported a $350,000 advance. There are currently bookings for the New York staging through June 2004, Kholos told Playbill On-Line. Kholos, whose background is television writing and TV advertising and marketing, has marketed his stage show to a Jewish audience hungry for stories about their community. While the mainstream press hasn't embraced it, and some dismiss it as well-marketed community theatre, it has nevertheless received a number of good reviews and has a high audience approval rating in the Zagat's theatre guide.
Kholos, 63, has no formal musical training but found himself moved by a visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum a couple of years ago.
"Walking through the museum, all the stories that my grandfather told me — he had experienced what the immigrants had experienced in 1910 — rushed back to me," Kholos told Playbill On-Line. "It was an amazing phenomenon. I started thinking about it, and that it might make an interesting story and musical."
He started writing the show in earnest in 2002, when he was living in Nashville, and presented workshop presentations of it there in fall 2002. Lon Gary directed and performed with a cast there, and remains attached to the show.
Kholos, who runs Orchard Street Productions with his family, looked north for a space on the Lower East Side, and found the 199-seat Mazer, a 100-year-old house that was once home to vaudeville stars, lecturers such as Mark Twain, and Yiddish theatre greats. He's renting that space and said the nearby tenement museum has been a partner in getting word out about the show.
The New York production has a cast of 22 non-union New York actors playing as many as 10 performances weekly to keep up with the audience demand.
Kholos (pronounce "COLE-us") said that every Sunday performance has sold out since the musical bowed in summer, so an extra Sunday show was added. Kholos credits good word of mouth, targeted advertising (radio ads, newspaper display ads and e-mail blasts) and group sales as the reasons the show has broken through the quarter-million advance figure.
A Stoop on Orchard Street is billed as a kind of cousin to Fiddler on the Roof. The musical shows the world that Tevye and his beleaguered Russian Jews might have ended up in after they fled Eastern Europe.
"The show is referred to as 'the day after Fiddler'," Kholos said. "It picks up in the Lower East Side, and it has a Jewish sensibility about it, because it's about the Russian Jews at the time...but I'd say the audience is 60-70 percent Jewish, and the rest are curious theatregoers who relate to the immigrant experience."
Kholos told Playbill On-Line that commercial producers have shown interest in the show moving uptown to a wider audience and perhaps a bigger future. The creator, however, said that the show belongs on the soil where the immigrant experience was so deeply felt — the Lower East Side.
And besides, Kholos is smart enough to know that with business partners and commercial prospects, he would likely lose some control over his material and lose a chunk of the potential future of the show. He's the sole investor, and if the New York debut is any indication, the future is huge. The capitalization for the current venture was less than $250,000, Kholos said, adding that he has indeed recouped his investment.
Kholos envisions other regional sitdown productions, a tour and future licensing for the property. A Stoop could very well become the next Nunsense, Forbidden Broadway or Forever Plaid — a show tightly controlled by its creators, raking in the box office receipts.
Around the time of the July 8 first preview, leading to the Aug. 7 opening, Kholos and company recorded a low budget cast album that is available on the show's website and at specialty stores (Footlight Records, for example). *
Kholos began his show business career at CBS, working on such classic shows as "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Red Skelton Hour," "Make Room For Daddy," "The Jack Benny Show" and more. He later wrote, produced and syndicated the award-winning TV shows "History In the Company of Women" and "History In the Company of Children," starring John Ritter. He created and executive produced Rod Sterling's syndicated radio series "Zero Hour." His companies have produced more than 1,500 commercials, including platinum sales of music compilations. He also wrote a screenplay, "Turnstiles," is due to be filmed in the fall of 2004.
Director Lon Gary has directed in Nashville for the past 10 years. His credits include Brighton Beach Memoirs, Viet Rock and Zoo Story. A Stoop premiered in Nashville and this is the second staging, which includes some cast holdovers.
Designers are Jason Lee Courson (set and costumes), Sabrina McGuigan (lighting and sound), Jason Summer (co-choreographer) and Tom Berger (musical director and co-choreographer).
The Mazer Theater is located at 197 East Broadway (corner of Jefferson). Performances play 8 PM Tuesday-Saturday; 2 PM Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday; 1 PM and 5 PM Sunday.
Tickets are $45 adults, $25 children 12 and under. For tickets visit www.Telecharge.com or call (212) 239-6200.
For more information, visit www.astooponorchardstreet.net.