If Tevye the Milkman and his neighbors had left Anatevka and "Fiddler on the Roof" in 1910, they might have ended up on New York's Lower East Side and in "A Stoop on Orchard Street."
In the latter musical, now playing at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park, life in the goldeneh medina (the golden land) isn't quite up to the dreams and expectations of the huddled Jewish masses.
They are crowded together with fellow greenhorns in tenements where they freeze in the winter, suffocate in the summer, work 16 hours a day in sweatshops and live from hand to mouth.
But there is always hope, the oft-repeated mantra of the musical, if not for the immigrants themselves then certainly for their children.
Indeed, Orchard Street, as neighboring Delancey and Hester streets, produced scientists, writers, doctors, entrepreneurs and movie moguls, as well as a Meyer Lansky and a Bugsy Siegel. "Orchard Street," with lyrics, music and book by native Angeleno Jay Kholos, has arrived in the Valley with a singing and dancing cast of 21 after a 14-month Off-Broadway run and performances in 16 cities.
To Kholos' credit, he has not tried to sugarcoat tenement life. There are some dark scenes and threads, including an anti-Semitic Irish cop and an abusive father who deserts his family.
But the main beat is on the positive, the hope that present deprivations will be rewarded by a better future, and that the Lomanskys and Lifschitzes might eventually move to such upscale neighborhoods as Brooklyn and the Bronx.
"There are two things we never forget, the day we arrived [in Orchard Street] and the day we left," reminisces elderly narrator Sheldon Cohen, who recalls his younger days in a series of flashback.
"Orchard Street" is an easy-to-take production, which provides a painless history lesson for the younger members of the three-generation families much in evidence at the 440-seat theater.
The 18 songs are pleasant, if not particularly memorable, except for the hilarious "The Bubbies," in which four creaky grandmothers upbraid their ungrateful children, even from the grave.
"A Stoop on Orchard Street" continues through April 3, with three evening and two matinee performances a week, at the Madrid Theatre, 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Tickets are $39 and $49. For information and reservations, phone (818) 347-9938, or visit www.madridtheatre.org.
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