Self-produced by lyricist-librettist-composer Jay Kholos, whose background is television writing and TV advertising and marketing, the musical celebrated its 100th performance at the Mazer Theatre with the Sept. 25 matinee. The historic Mazer is in the Manhattan neighborhood where the show is set, the Lower East Side.
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 a nine-show week that, by Nov. 23, will present a whopping 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 there will be an extra Sunday show 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. Performances will play the Mazer at least through March 2004, he said.
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 expects a South Florida staging to emerge within a year and envisions 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 cast album that is available on the show's website and at specialty stores (Footlight Records, for example). Since the summer opening, Kholos and director Lon Gary have made refinements and changes. Kholos said many changes were incorporated into A Stoop between the Nashville readings and New York, including cut and added songs.
The Mazer Theater is at 197 East Broadway.
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. His original screenplay, "Turnstiles," is due to be filmed in the fall of 2004.
Director Lon Gary has directed extensively 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. This commercial run is open-ended.
The cast of 23 includes Edward Anthony, Selby Brown, Lili Corn, Valerie David, Eleni Delopoulos, Lon Gary, Deborah Grausman, Joel Halsted, Shad Olsen, Daniel J. Fischer, Jason Adamo, Carolyn Seiff, Kristian Hunter Lazzaro, Stuart Marshall, Sarah Matteucci, David Mendell, Jonathan Schneidman, Joseph Spiotta, Scott Steven, Antonia Garza Szilagi, Sharon Taylor, and Stephanie Wilberding.
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).
Performances play 8 PM Tuesday-Saturday; 2 PM Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday; 3 PM Sunday (on Nov. 23 Sundays shows are 1 PM and 5 PM). Tickets are $45 adults, $25 children 12 and under. For tickets call Telecharge (212) 239-6200.
For more information, visit www.astooponorchardstreet.net.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum's mission is "To promote tolerance and historical perspective through the presentation and interpretation of the variety of immigrant and migrant experiences on Manhattan's Lower East Side, a gateway to America." The heart of the Museum is its landmark tenement building, home to 7,000 immigrants from over 20 different nations between 1863 and 1935. The Museum also offers walking tours and various other programs such as art exhibits, plays, and readings on a rotating basis throughout the year. For more information, visit (212) 431-0233 or visit the Museum's website at www.tenement.org.