Just within shouting distance of Orchard Street,
Manhattan audiences can now attend a charming, nostalgic new musical called
A STOOP ON ORCHARD STREET. A tale of Jewish immigrants trying to find
their footing in 1910 New York after fleeing Russia, this piece, with
dignity and respect, examines not only the characters it introduces, but
also, and to a much more limited extent, the unique cultural phenomenon of
the new immigrant.
The interesting premise is paired with musical numbers
that range from witty to ditty, a solid yet simple story, and some good
performers. A STOOP ON ORCHARD STREET stands on solid ground. Told in
classic flashback style from the point of view of the Old Man (Lon Gary),
who recounts his days as young Benny from the block (Joseph Spiotta), our
gentlemanly narrator reminded me, ironically, of the Burl Ives snowman from
one of those oft-run animated Christmas specials. I suppose that only
attests to the warm and familiar way in which Mr. Gary, who directs the
piece as well as performing in it, has approached this pivotal role. In a
series of songs entitled "I Remember When" he introduces snippets of memory,
only for the wheels of time to rewind, and for the flashbacks to begin.
Back when, Benny survives the poverty of the times, and
the sudden loss of a parent, when his most unhappy father leaves the family
in pursuit of the riches found in the land uptown. In response, Benny
announces, in song, that he is now the man of the family, though he is still
a young boy. He, along with his mother, sister and an uncle who pines for
the love he left behind, persevere, perhaps growing stronger and wiser.
In the rich culture of Orchard Street, the ethnicity of
the community is fodder for many of the lighter musical numbers, like the
inspired "Lipschitz," a tune about not changing names at Ellis Island, and
"The Bubbies," about the universality of the older, wiser and generally
ignored grandmothers among us. In spite of the plot revolving around Jewish
immigrants, there is a wonderful universality here. Most of us in NYC had
relatives who just a generation or two ago faced the daunting specter of
Ellis Island, and the struggle to integrate into a new world. The struggle,
ultimately won, is mired in roadblocks along the way in A STOOP ON
ORCHARD STREET, and these moments of trial are accompanied by
appropriately moody music.
I enjoyed A STOOP ON ORCHARD STREET for being
sentimental without being sappy. It is a nice little musical that could,
someday, be discovered and invited into the magical world just uptown, and
somewhere beyond the shadow of Orchard Street.
- Kessa De Santis -