"There's an angel at the bottom of the well," the chorus solemnly tells us. Probably it's the same hole from which the Prince dredged up Marketplace, a sodden and unoriginal "original musical," now receiving its world première production. Marketplace is based on a 1906 play by Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz. I assume the original, a hybrid ghost story/moral fable, has real stature; director Alexandra Aron writes about it compellingly in her program note. But Glen Berger's adaptation is cheesy kitsch.
In a small village, two men, Nosn and The Badkhn, seek to raise the dead — specifically, Sheyndele, Nosn's beloved bride, who drowned at her wedding. (P.S. The Badkhn is a Buddy Hackett type who both emcees the show and wants to fix the world. P.P.S. Sheyndele's wedding dress is a shredded shmatte that my mother wouldn't have used to polish the silver. Marketplace has some astonishingly hideous costumes.)
Raising the dead turns out to be kind of a big deal, and the Badkhn has to summon the Gargoyle. (She's a tall, glamorous brunette who dresses like a whore, and has a rangy voice — the show's Fruma Aldonza. She's also played by Charlotte Cohn, an emerging star who would be the only reason to put yourself through Marketplace.) And the ending? Alas, nothing's easy. God's kvetchy, and life turns out to be laden with happiness and tears, just like Fiddler taught us.
Jewish folklore has produced some superb art — and Marketplace is a shameless and lazy effort to capitalize on it. Frank London's klezmer score is unambitious, and Glen Berger's book and lyrics are amateurish. The scenery looks like high school Marc Chagall (why do these shows always copy Chagall?). Staging is rudimentary. I left feeling the Prince management cynically thought they could get away with this — for their season-opener! — simply because they have a large Jewish subscription audience.
What's going on here? Who's minding the store? A couple of seasons ago, Philly's iconoclastic Brat Productions demonstrated they could conjure up a witty, charming, sensationally performed musical (Grease and Desist) in a matter of days. Each year, Philly Fringe has some imaginative new work. If they can do it, why can't the Prince?
A Night in the Old Marketplace, Through Oct. 21, Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St., 215-569-9700, www.princemusictheater.org