Reviewed by Eric Grode
Presented by and at La MaMa etc., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC, Jan. 4-28.
You don't have to know "Fiddler on the Roof" to be bored by "FIDDLER sub-terrain," the leaden new satire playing at La MaMa. But exposure to the earlier piece will most likely make it even more dismaying.
Oren Safdie's book, which awkwardly transplants Tevye's family into modern-day Montreal, is filled with the sort of names and gags that Mad Magazine might briefly—but only briefly—consider using. The eponymous fiddler has become an accordionist in the basement, the daughters have names like Sciatica and Spritzer, and Perchik the revolutionary is now Boychik the lesbian. And so on. Safdie also devotes an inordinate amount of attention to the arcana of the separatist movement in Quebec, material that must certainly play better across the border.
Most of Ronnie Cohen's melodies are unexceptional but tuneful enough. His lyrics, however, rarely rise much higher than this paean to 1-900 numbers: "Just a little interview/I'm desirin' of the boob." And with the exception of one clever jab at our assimilationist age (the only daughter to truly shame the family here is the one who converts to Orthodox Judaism), the concepts and emotions that the original "Fiddler" depicted so vividly are here reduced to third-rate jokes about dildos and "Cats."
As is often the case these days with sub-par musicals, many of the performers manage to shine brighter than their material. Mary Ann Conk (as the mother), Sean Power, Michelle Solomon, and Amy Shure are among the vocal and/or comedic standouts. But Anthony Patellis, who also co-directs with Safdie, continually panders to the audience as the Tevye surrogate.
On numerous, increasingly tiresome occasions, the "writer" often shows up on stage to write characters out or add new material for aggrieved cast members. Given the current state of "FIDDLER sub-terrain," he has his work cut out for him.