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‘Sopranos’ Convention Treats Fans Like Family

‘Sopranos’ Convention Treats Fans Like Family
November 22
12:21 2019
Two-day SopranosCon is expected to attract at least 7,500 fans this weekend in Secaucus, N.J.

By  Charles Passy | Photographs by Erica Seryhm Lee for The WSJ

Most tourists come to the New York metropolitan area to visit such landmarks as the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building. Mark Raat came to obsess about “The Sopranos.”

Mr. Raat, a 31-year-old visitor from the Netherlands, is a huge fan of the hit HBO mob drama about the fictional New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano. As such, he is in town to attend SopranosCon, a convention for like-minded fans being held for the first time this Saturday and Sunday at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, N.J.

But Mr. Raat’s trip doesn’t end there. He is also paying a visit to a number of significant “Sopranos” sites, from the North Caldwell, N.J., home that was a stand-in for Tony Soprano’s abode to Holsten’s Brookdale Confectionery, the Bloomfield, N.J., restaurant and ice-cream parlor where the series’ final scene took place.

“Almost everyone collects things, like stamps or action figures. I collect ‘Sopranos’ memories,” said Mr. Raat, who estimates he has watched the complete six-season series at least 30 times.

Never mind that the show, which ushered in a new era of must-see television, ended its run more than a decade ago. Or that James Gandolfini, who won three Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Tony Soprano as the ultimate anti-hero, died in 2013.

“Sopranos” mania continues unabated, particularly with a prequel film, “The Many Saints of Newark,” now in the works. In turn, that has sparked a kind of mini industry in New Jersey.

SopranosCon is the best evidence of that fervor. The convention, organized by three American fans who found each other online, is an ambitious two-day affair that will bring together more than 50 actors and actresses who appeared in the series. And one animal as well—namely, the horse that played Pie-O-My, the racing prospect beloved by Tony.

Events include a series of panels about the show, question-and-answer sessions with cast members and even a cannoli-eating competition.

Mark Raat
Filmmakers talk with ‘Sopranos’ fans father and son Hein Raat, left, and Mark Raat, second left, at Holsten’s. PHOTO: ERICA YOON

SopranosCon organizers say they anticipate at least 7,500 fans will attend, with many coming from outside the U.S.

“It’s the biggest ‘Sopranos’ event in history,” said Michael Mota, a Rhode Island media, marketing and event-planning executive who is one of the trio behind SopranosCon. Mr. Mota added that the convention is costing $400,000 to produce, but should turn a profit.

While “Sopranos” creator David Chase won’t be on hand, he voiced his support for the event. “It’s fantastic to see such enthusiasm for the show and I hope everyone has a wonderful time,” he said in a statement.

But SopranosCon is simply part of the continuing “Sopranos” fan story. Consider that On Location Tours, a tour operator in New York City, has been running a “Sopranos” tour since 2001, just two years after the series launched. The twice weekly tour, which runs $62, includes stops at many key sites connected to the show, such as Holsten’s.

And Holsten’s itself sees “Sopranos” fans almost every day beyond those on the tour, according to Karl Schneider, a manager of the restaurant.

“They all have this look, like they’ve visited the Mecca,” he said. Mr. Schneider added that he has lost count of how many orders of onion rings, dubbed “best in the state” by Tony Soprano, he has sold because of the show.

The Sopranos “home” in North Caldwell has also become more than a curiosity. It is now for sale. Owners Victor and Patti Recchia put the nearly 6,000-square-foot house on the market for $3.4 million several months ago.

Mr. Recchia said he has fielded offers, but nothing has been finalized. Meanwhile, he is continuing to see fans show up at his door and he generally allows them to take pictures of the house on the outside. “They’re always friendly,” he said.

Courtesy : The Wall Street Journal

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