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King of Schnorrers (11/28/1979 - 01/13/1980)


 

New York Daily News: "Predictable, enjoyable"

"King of Schnorrers" originally opened off-Broadway at the Harold Clurman Theater. It transferred to the Playhouse November 28, 1979.

According to the program for this musical, schnorrer is a Yiddish word that "translates as beggar, but the traditional Jewish schnorrer bears little resemblance to a mendicant. First of all, he's a professional, who through his generous receipt of your charity, allows you to fulfill your religious obligation to help the unfortunate."

This musical is about one da Costa, a Sephardic Jew living in London in the 18th century, who is "The King of Schnorrers." He struts around in an outlandish costume, outfoxing the more fortunate - or less fortunate, as the case may be - inviting himself to dinner at the homes of wealthy people. David, a cabinetmaker, meets da Costa's daughter, Deborah, a young radical, and immediately falls for her. Father, however, is the problem.

With daddy's delusions of grandeur, no workingman would be good enough for daughter, so David decides to beat him at his own game. He gets papa to agree to a test, which if he passes, will give him a chance to marry Deborah. True love being what it is, you probably know the ending already.

And that's the trouble with this musical. Based on a 19th-century folk tale, it is set to some very pleasant music, with nice performances by the entire cast. But the lyrics and the book are just too predictable. The audience can anticipate almost every single rhyme, and it's much too easy to figure out the ending as well.

However, Lloyd Battista, as the swaggering da Costa, is an engaging con man; Sophie Schwab and Philip Casnoff are appealing as the young lovers, and Jerry Mayer makes the most of his role, that of a miserly undertaker. And Patricia Asheads' costumes are quite imaginative.

But the main appeal of this musical would have to be bright, smart and engaging direction of Grover Dale.


New York Daily News
10/11/1979

New York Post: "'Schnorrers' goes begging"

"King of Schnorrers" originally opened off-Broadway at the Harold Clurman Theater. It transferred to the Playhouse November 28, 1979.

Unless your name is John Gay or Bertolt Brecht, it is not a good idea to open your musical with a pack of colorful beggars wearing stylized rags and clamorously hawking rubber fish and chickens. Unless your show is a miracle of musical art, it will put a person in mind of those godawful folk-tale musicals that proliferated on and off Broadway in the late '60s and culminated in the abominable Pippin.

King of Schnorrers, which opened Off-Broadway the other night at the Harold Clurman Theater on Theater Row, is no miracle. It is not even Pippin, which at least had the theatrical genius of Bob Fosse to disguise it. Judd Woldin's new show, is, rather, a vest-pocket edition of the folk-musical, a genre that has about as much to say to modern sensibilities as Uncle Remus.

Based on an 1894 comic novella by Israel Zangwill, the musical tells a folksy tale about a flamboyant beggar who outwits his gullible brethren within the Jewish ghettos of London, during the Age of (Supposed) Reason. Lloyd Battista plays this conniving rascal with great dash, and much is made of his majestic Sephardic pride, which he lords all over the Ashkenazim he swindles so cleverly.

The show floats so long as it concentrates on the Schnorrer's sly guile, which an amusing song called "Chutzpah" both captures and sends up. Unhappily, such moments of musical ingenuity are rare. Mostly the show bogs down in the young-love subplot that seems to be mandatory in folk-musicals. No charmer he, Philip Casnoff offers a spiritless portrayal of the young upstart who tries to schnorr the schnorrer for his daughter. Sophie Schwab brings a lot more zetz and sweet soprano to the girl's role, even if she is stuck with gooey love-song lyrics that contradict her supposedly independent character.

Plot weaknesses and character inconsistencies are so much water off a folk-musical's back, anyway, since this is a charm-show genre that puts much more stock in style. The style of King of Schnorrers is all Grover Dale's, who directed and choreographed the show from its laboratory beginnings, as the first production of a new musical theater group called The Moving Company.

The company style is busy, very busy, without being either remarkably clever or inventive. A handsome color palette gets smothered in a tangle of set and costume details. Individual scenes fly by in gusts of hyperkinetic movement. And although Jerry Mayer and Ralph Bruneau keep their comic heads above the giddiness, most of the cast staggers under the relentless cuteness of it all.

Eventually, instead of being either cute or charming, the style of the production simply exhausts its material, showing us how thin it really is. If you don't want us to see that the chicken is rubber, you shouldn't wave it in our face.


New York Post
10/12/1979

New York Times: "'Schnorrers,' Search for Happiness"

"King of Schnorrers" is an attempt at crossbreeding the ethnic passion of "Fiddler on the Roof" with the intimate romantic charm of "The Fantasticks."

This amiable little musical, which glided into the Playhouse Theater last night after an earlier engagement Off Off Broadway, is drawn from Israel Zangwill's story "The King of Schnorrers." It is a raffish view of the Jewish population of London in 1791, with with opposing sides represented by Sephardim who come from Spain and Ashkenazim from Germany. The show poses the question: Can the pretty daughter of a Sephardic schnorrer find happiness with an Ashkenazic radical chairmaker? The answer is yes, if they move to Amsterdam.

A schnorrer is defined as "a beggar with a lack of inhibitions," in other words, a snobbish swindler with chutzpah, a man who prides himself on his ability to fool others. Book, music and lyrics are the handiwork of Judd Woldin (with occasional help from other lyricists), and in all three arenas the work is middling. Each is a modest match for the others, although if one had to choose, one would say that the music is a bit better than the lyrics.

The show falls somewhere between Broadway musical comedy and Yiddish theater, and could have an appeal to sentimentalists of all faiths. It should be most popular among those who have the greatest fondness for stories about stern fathers who overlook tradition when their daughter's happiness is at stake.

Grover Dale, who previously worked his directorial sleight-of-hand with "The Magic Show," treats "King of Schnorrers" as if it had just leaped out of a theatrical trunk. This is a chamber production that could be packaged and sold as a toy theater: fold out the scenery, cut the characters along the dotted line.

Curtains are the key to the staging. Setting up parallel clotheslines just above the actors' heads, Mr. Dale and his set designer, Ed Wittstein, fill them with a skein of colorful quilt-size curtains and use them for entrances and exits and, occasionally, for hide-and-seek. One of the director's most artful strokes is a dance of clothes. A wardrobe seems to come to life, with sleeves and shoes moving in rhythm as if activated by an unseen puppeteer.

Lloyd Battista is appealing as the king of schnorrers, the most concealed confidence man on the East End of London. Jerry Mayer is properly nasty as a mean miser, an undertaker who is dying to expand his business. As the lovers, John Dossett and Sophie Schwab, radiate ingenuousness and have good voices to accompany their youthfulness. Mr. Dossett, the only new member of the cast, is quite amusing as he auditions for the role of apprentice schnorrer by outfoxing the old miser.

The direction and the performances enrich "King of Schnorrers," but they do not transform the familiar, home spun material.


New York Times
11/29/1979

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