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A Night in the Old Marketplace

This innovative musical adaptation of a classic Yiddish drama is intellectually fascinating but neither as amusing or affecting as one would hope. logo
Guil Fisher, Ray Wills, and Steven Rattazzi
in A Night in the Old Marketplace
(© Mark Garvin)
There is much to admire in the Prince Music Theater's innovative if not entirely successful world premiere of A Night in the Old Marketplace. In exploring the relationship between man and God, Marketplace is never less than intellectually fascinating, but ultimately, the show is neither as amusing or affecting as one would hope.

Conceived and directed by Alexandra Aron, with music by Frank London and book and lyrics from Glen Berger, the show is a 90-minute musical reimagining of I.L. Peretz's sprawling 1906 Yiddish drama Bei Nakht Altn Mark. The supernatural tale -- which includes among its characters a wandering bear, dancing zombies and a ghoulish gargoyle -- is set entirely in the marketplace of a rural village (wonderfully realized in Lauren Helpern's quaint and visually-pleasing scenic design). There we encounter three men, all of whom blame themselves for the death of a young bride named Sheyndele (Deborah Grausman) who 20 years earlier hurled herself into a well.

The ringleader of the trio is a disillusioned jester known as "the Badkhn," (portrayed with cynical flamboyance by Ray Willis) who rails against the powerful forces in the world. In the darkly celebratory number "Mazel Tov," Badkhn informs us of his "plan for a revolution" against "God or whoever is running this universe."

Joining him is the mysterious recluse Itzhak (a pious Guil Fisher) and Nosn (the terrific Steven Rattazzi), who after losing his love Sheyndele -- first to a rich merchant and then to the dark waters of the well -- has wandered the streets a drunk and broken man. To redeem themselves and allow "a new world" to be born, the three enlist the aid of a gargoyle (the vocally-gifted but less-than-convincing Charlotte Cohn) to raise Sheyndele from her watery grave and reunite her with her beloved Nosn.

Fans of bold musical theater will no doubt relish the multi-media production's theatrical daring; Nick Kourtides' thunderous sound design, Tyler Micoleau's thrilling lighting, and Levi Okunov's imaginative costume design are all outstanding. Meanwhile, London's rich and varied score -- a blend of pop, classical, jazz and klezmer -- evokes the work of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, and Berger's wryly pointed lyrics are both provocative and witty. (The score is highlighted by the spectacular Broadway-style love song "It Doesn't Matter.") Eric Barnes' superb musical direction is particularly accomplished.

In the end, despite all of Marketplace's admirable individual elements, Aron is never able to successfully merge the show's vaudeville-inspired comedy with the story's profound musings.

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