The Real Women Of Bay Ridge: Stage Producer Loves Her Role
By Paula Katinas
Editor’s Note: In celebration of Women’s History Month, and in response to the firestorm created by the Oxygen Network’s new “reality” series “Brooklyn 11223,” which depicts women cursing, drinking and fighting in Bay Ridge and other neighborhoods, the Brooklyn Eagle is proud to present this feature profiling the “real” women of Bay Ridge and their accomplishments.
Bay Ridge — These are busy days for Karen Tadross. She’s helping her daughter Pamela plan her wedding. Before that, there’s the delicate matter of planning Pamela’s bridal shower.
“We’re having it at Cebu,” Tadross said.
She is coordinating everything with her daughter long-distance because Pamela Tadross lives in Boston and is pursuing her post-doctorate degree in chemistry at Harvard University.
Planning a wedding is a daunting job for most people, but not for Tadross. If one thinks of a wedding as a major production, then Tadross has plenty of experience.
She is the producer for Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions, the Bay Ridge-based theater company founded by musician-conductor Jeff Samaha. Her duties include finding material for the company to perform, securing the rights, supervising auditions, managing the stage productions, and raising money to mount the productions.
“My business card says, ‘Producer, director, production manager.’ You have to be prepared to change your hat very quickly,” Tadross, 52, said during an interview at the Brooklyn Eagle office Monday morning.
Tadross’s husband Tony builds the sets for the company’s productions.
Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions mounts one full Broadway-type blockbuster show each year. Its past productions have included Ragtime, Miss Saigon, Seussical, and Smoky Joe’s Café. The shows are performed at the theater at Poly Prep Country Day School on Seventh Avenue and 92nd Street.
The company does not mount a large-scale production during presidential election years because of the demands on Samaha’s work schedule. Samaha is the production manager for “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams” and spends a great deal of time during presidential election years traveling to set up interviews for the news anchor, as well as coordinating the network’s coverage of primaries and political conventions.
Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions presents smaller shows and concerts during presidential election years.
Tadross is also the co-chair, along with Anthony Marino, of the Arts and Culture Committee of the Bay Ridge Community Council. The committee was formed last year to promote the arts in Bay Ridge. Marino is the co-founder, along with the late Bay Ridge Eagle columnist Tom Kane, of brooklynONE Theater, a company that presents original works.
The committee’s first major production was the highly successful “Teen Idol” contest, a talent competition modeled after “American Idol.” Dozens of local teens entered the contest and the finalists performed on the main concert stage at the Third Avenue Festival.
Tadross has been a part of Samaha’s theater company for nearly 10 years. Before that, she was the director of Bishop Kearney High School’s theater program. Bishop Kearney, a Catholic high school for girls at 2200 60th St., did not have a theater program before Tadross’s arrival.
“They needed someone to jumpstart the program. They wanted to present full-book productions,” Tadross said, meaning full-scale productions of musicals featuring costumes, scenery and an orchestra.
“A student came up with the idea. She suggested that Kearney have a theater program,” Tadross recalled.
Tadross’s daughter Pamela was a Bishop Kearney student at the time. When school officials approached Tadross about starting a theater program, she agreed to give it a try.
“I thought, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ The show would be a flop and I would never be asked again to lead a production,” she said. “Our first show was Oliver in 1999. It was a wonderful show and a learning experience for me. The teamwork, energy, and creativity were amazing. I just got hooked. I ended up staying until 2008. We did 10 shows.”
The Bishop Kearney shows were a Tadross family affair. Tony Tadross built the sets.
“Pamela was in the orchestra pit, playing the piano. And my daughter Victoria was in a few of the productions,” Tadross said.
Victoria Tadross, 24, is now an assistant vice president in the treasury sales department at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tadross came to Samaha’s attention a few years into her tenure as Bishop Kearney’s theater program director.
“Jeff came to one of our shows. He approached me about being the stage manager for a production of Ragtime that he was doing. He told me, ‘I can see you’re doing a good job.’ He also needed someone to build the sets, so I got my husband involved,” she said.
Ragtime marked the start of the fruitful partnership between Tadross and Samaha.
“It has worked out really well. Our families became friends, too,” Tadross said.
For a few years, Tadross did double duty, serving at Bishop Kearney and at Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions.
“For a while, I did both,” she recalled.
Because of her working relationship with Samaha, Tadross is aware of his sophisticated taste in shows and always keeps that in mind when she is looking for material for the company.
“Jeff likes challenging music. Ragtime, Miss Saigon, and Smoky Joe are mostly music-based,” she said, referring to the fact that the shows have little dialogue and have stories told mostly through the songs. “If I were to say to Jeff, ‘Let’s do Grease,’ he would say, ‘Yuck!’ It’s not challenging and interesting enough,” she said.
Tadross also keeps the audience in mind when seeking material.
“We always consider whether we think an audience is going to respond to the show,” she said.
Ridge Chorale/Jeff Samaha Productions is a not-for-profit company. Its mission is to bring theater shows to the community at low cost. Tickets to the shows are $25 each.
Tadross grew up in Dyker Heights and attended St. Bernadette School. After graduation, she went on to New Utrecht High School, where the show business bug first hit her. New Utrecht had a competition called “Sing” in which each grade would mount a musical and a panel of judges would decide which show was the best. “Each ‘Sing’ had to have a chairman and I was the chairman of ‘Sing’ in my junior and senior years,” she said.
After her high school graduation, Tadross bypassed college and went to work. Her reasons had partly to do with economics. Her mother was in ill health and her medical bills were high. The family didn’t have enough money to pay for college for Karen and her brothers.
Tadross lived and worked in Los Angeles for a year.
“I was 19. I loved L.A.,” she said.
Following her return, Tadross went to work as a recruiter for an executive search firm. She met her husband on the job.
“I interviewed him,” she said with a smile.
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