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STOMP’s Long Run at the Orpheum Theatre

On February 27, 1994, STOMP,  the “international sensation and iconic New York theatrical landmark” opened at the 347-seat Orpheum Theatre at 126 2nd Avenue between 7th Street and St. Marks. Since then, over three million people have viewed this off-Broadway show about how ordinary household objects and the human body can create a physical theatrical performance.

Developed by Steve McNicholas and Luke Cresswell in Brighton, England in 1991, STOMP opened with an original cast of seven. It won a number of awards and toured the world to capacity audiences from 1991 to 1994. STOMP ‘s run at the Orpheum starting in February, 1994, earned an Obie Award and a Drama Desk Award. By that summer, the first American cast was in place at the Orpheum, and the original cast moved on to a tour of North America and Japan.

Since then, STOMP has become a part of the neighborhood and the world’s cultural fabric.  STOMP has appeared on Mr. Roger’s Neigborhood, Sesame Street, The Muppets, Reading Rainbow, and in President Clinton’s Millenium Celebration, a number of movies, and a “Stomp out Litter” campaign. They have been a part of countless music festivals and movies.

The video below of the Harlem Globetrotters and STOMP was shot at the William F. Passannante Ballfield On Houston Street and 6th Avenue. You’ve definitely made it into the pop culture pantheon if you appear with the Harlem Globetrotters.

126 Second Avenue- The Orpheum

The building at 126 Second Avenue has a long and varied history, connected to one of the oldest names in New York history, and was not actually originally built as a theater.

The building was first constructed in 1837-39 as a three-story house by Gerard Stuyvesant, a descendant of Petrus (Peter), on land once owned by this last director-general of the colony of New Netherland. It was later altered to have a first-floor restaurant and upper floor apartments in 1892, and served as a meeting space for the New-York Chess Club, the Liberty Cycle Club, and the Austro-Hungarian Republic League. It was raised to four stories between 1895 and 1899.

Its life as a theater didn’t begin until the early 20th century, by which time Second Avenue had transformed from a genteel residential district to a teeming commercial and entertainment district.  By 1913 the building was home to the Moving Picture Theatre.

Somewhere around this time, perhaps as late as 1916, the building was altered again to two stories in height, taking more or less the form we see today. The present Georgian Palladian facade, which dates to this renovation, features denticulated cornice with brick parapet above and curvilinear pediment at center, triple-arched windows on the second floor, enframed by moldings with scroll keystones, and divided by columns standing on pedestals. Other characters include decorative frieze, beltcourses, projecting brick piers flanking the facade, and figural carving above the corners of the first story.

126 2nd Avenue, 1940 Tax Photo showing the theater running the 1939 films “The Man Who Dared” and “In Name Only”

The building did not become known as the Orpheum until 1929, and remained a movie house until 1958, after which became the off-Broadway theater it is today.  Some of the many great productions which have taken place there prior to STOMP include Little Shop of Horrors in 1982, Sandra Bernhard’s Without You I’m Nothing in 1988, The Lady in Question in 1989, Eric Bogosian’s Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll in 1990, John Leguizamo’s Mambo Mouth in 1991, and David Mamet’s Oleanna in 1992.  Eileen Brennan, Anne Bancroft, Eli Wallach, Marian Seldes, Robert Livingston, Gary William Friedman, Will Holt,  Danny Apolinar, Hal Hester, Donald Driver, Kevin Wade, Alan Menken, and Howard Ashman have all won awards for their work at the Orpheum.

Want to explore more East Village theaters?  Check out our tour of East Village theaters from our East Village Building Blocks webpage.

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