- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 29, 2001

NEW YORK It's a sunny Sunday afternoon and the exotically clad girls at the Bada Bing club are sprawled about the dressing room awaiting their turns to dance in the seductive gloom.

"We get all kinds here, you name it" says Elevera, an Amazonian young woman who surpasses 6 feet in her stiletto heels. Adjusting her bra for maximum effect, she adds: "Types like Tony, too. He's soooooo sexy."

"Tony" is Tony Soprano, anti-hero and Prozac-popping don of HBO's popular television series "The Sopranos."

The Bada Bing (in reality called Satin Dolls) on Route 17 in Lodi, N.J., is a focal point of the mob epic. It's where the gang hangs, the mob mopes and the leches leer as the dancers mount the massive bar and, dreaming of fame and fortune, writhe around the standing poles.

A few of the club's dancers have appeared on the show, topless, but in real life they are strategically dressed because New Jersey law prohibits such exhibition where liquor is served.

On this particular Sunday, eavesdroppers noted that most of the girls were busy talking about New Jersey property values, no doubt a sign of the good times and attention the intense popularity of "The Sopranos" has brought to this lightless corner of a much-maligned state.

Stopping at the Bada Bing has become a feature of the latest "Sopranos" fad: a tour of the locations where the series is shot.

"And who owns the Bada Bing?" shouts tour director Chris Lucas, testing the trivia index of a busload of Sopranoites. A hand shoots up. "Silvio Dante," replies a man from Brooklyn, referring to the Soprano kinsman with a loose lower lip, played by Steven Van Zandt.

"Right. And what does he do in real life besides acting?"

"Plays lead guitar for the Bruce Springsteen band," the same man says. The tour begins exiting the Lincoln Tunnel, the driver heading toward the green-and-white signs that Tony follows in the opening sequence of each episode. As the bus climbs sharply to the Weehawken Heights, the "Sopranos" theme, sung by the group Alabama 3, gets the crowd in the mood. "You woke up this morning, got yourself a gun. Mama always said you'd be the chosen one… ."

The fans are primed.

"Those of you who are in the witness protection program, remember to avoid the cameras," warns Mr. Lucas, wearing a black sweatshirt bearing the motto: "Club Bada Bing. Come on in and Fuhgeddaboudit."

When he's not showing people around "Sopranos" territory, he does "background" or "extra" work on the show, playing Jimmy Flynn, an Irish gangster.

Mr. Lucas portrayed a mourner at the funeral service for the indomitable Livia, Tony's mother, who died a few episodes ago, a plot point necessitated by the death of Nancy Marchand, the actress who played her. Livia was named by "Sopranos" creator David Chase (real name, "De Cesare") after the murderous wife of Caesar Augustus.

As the bus passes the Holy Name Cemetery in Jersey City where Livia is buried, the crowd nods knowingly.

"She is my favorite character," says Frank Aiello, 57, a Manhattan lawyer. "She knows how to manipulate, as many mothers do. What a hoot." Mr. Aiello, one of only three Italian-Americans on the bus, at one point represented officials of the Teamsters union.

"We thought we'd get a lot of, you know, 'Joe-eeeeeeys,' " said Georgette Blau, 26, who founded the Manhattan-based On Location Tours. "But instead, we get a broad range of people." Many bus riders, she said, demand to see the star, James Gandolfini, but his going rate for a half-hour appearance is $50,000, an offer they can refuse.

Occasionally, a wise-guy-in-training turns up on the tour. "We had one guy who called himself 'Johnny Toothpick' and swore he knew everything about the mob," Mr. Lucas said. "Most of them are very well-behaved and actually seem to know where the bodies are buried."

On this day, visitors from Great Britain and Australia concentrated intensely as they viewed the panorama of truck parks, smokestacks, refineries, marshland and general blight that is the landscape of "Sopranos" territory.

"Rather grim, isn't it?" said Russ Collins, 29, of Glasgow, Scotland, a Sopranoite in New Jersey for the first time. He gazed soulfully at the steps of the Skyway Diner in Kearney, the spot where two young hotheads shot Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli) last season. For those not paying attention, Christopher was recently promoted to "made man," a relief to all.

"He's a bloke with a mother-and-son phobia," says Kevin Raymond, 47, of London, adding that the series has reached cult status at home in Britain.


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