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Bus Tour Pays Tribute to Gandolfini

Hackensack, N.J. — The Sopranos tour bus made its weekly run past dozens of North Jersey show sites on Saturday, just as it has been doing for more than a decade.

But Wednesday’s death of 51-year-old star James Gandolfini — Whose Tony Soprano is one of television’s most memorable characters — made this four-hour ride different for the 51 tourists who came from such places as England, Ireland, Scotland, Australia and Hungary.

“It’s a bit somber, isn’t it?” said Layla Razzak of London as she stood on Kearny Avenue, near the site of the fictitious Satriale’s Pork Store, during the second of the tour’s four stops.

Her friend, Stacey Haid, also of London, agreed.

“It’s hard to even watch clips of the show now,” Haid said.

But like more than 40 of the bus riders, they had already booked the tour before the news of Gandolfini’s death — and many didn’t know if they’d ever get another chance to tour the Sopranos landscape. So they readily agreed to take the advice of tour guide Marc Baron — an actor who had several minor roles during the course of the series — to “celebrate James’ life.”

A highlight of the $46 tour — during which Baron pointed out scene locations in Jersey City, Harrison, Newark and other sites in between trivia questions and video clips — was a visit to Holsten’s ice cream parlor in Bloomfield.

That was the site of the enigmatic final scene of the series, and most in the group took the chance to be photographed at the booth where the final scene of the HBO series was filmed. This time, the booth was adorned with a bouquet of flowers, an attached card that read, “Rest in Peace, James Gandolfini. Love, Holsten’s,” and a newspaper front page noting Gandolfini’s passing.

Mats Lhado of Stockholm, on the tour with wife Susanne, said he declined to have his picture taken at the booth. “It just seems too soon,” Lhado said.

The North Jersey scenery was just like Tony McSwaine of Brisbane, Australia, had pictured it from the show — “seedy and industrial,” he said.

McSwaine added that while the sudden death of Gandolfini was upsetting, it also made the tour “even more interesting now.”

“As soon as I get back (home), I’m going to watch the whole series all over again,” McSwaine said.

Tour bus riders — they start in midtown Manhattan and quickly get to observe sights from the show’s famed opening scenes — typically aren’t allowed to take any photos inside Satin Dolls, the Lodi strip club on Route 17 that was known as the “Bada Bing” on the show.

But management this time allowed photos of a modest memorial at “Tony’s spot” in the club — where a framed photo of a downcast Tony Soprano was placed above a “SOPRANOS” New Jersey license plate and two black T-shirts bearing the real or fictitious name of the club.

John Thompson of Newcastle, England - enough of a sports fan that he was watching the early minutes of a soccer game on TV while a bikini-clad dancer gyrated onstage - said the juxtaposition of Gandolfini’s death and the tour two days later made for a “poignant” day.

Tour guest Dominic Mastri of Scranton, Pa., and dancer Diana Lomoro both rued the finality for “The Sopranos” that results from Gandolfini’s passing.

“It’s such a shock - nobody really thought the show was over until now,” said Lomoro, who said she spent time with Gandolfini shooting scenes on the set for the third season.

Mastri, who called himself a “huge fan” of the show, tried to make the best of the situation.

“This is the first time I got my wife to go to a strip club,” Mastri said.

But he added, “I was always hoping that someday there would be a Sopranos movie. That’s what makes this all so bittersweet.”

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©2013 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)

Visit The Record (Hackensack, N.J.) at www.NorthJersey.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): GANDOLFINI-OBIT

ILLUSTRATION (from MCT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): 20130620 BP Gandolfini¼

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