Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"Fritz and Froyim"
Turtle's Shell Theatre, Manhattan
"Once more it is the post-Holocaust theme--but a fresh take on the theme. Playwright Norman Beim has turned his writing talents to a musical (his first musical), creating the book and lyrics, working with composers Mark Barkan and Rolf Barnes.
Despite the new juicier items in today’s news which override the past, “Fritz and Froyim” proves that guilt is never out of fashion, not if transmuted into a work of art.
Beim, Barkan and Barnes have run with this story, based loosely on Romain Gary’s “The Dance of Genghis Cohn.” Fritz, a former SS officer, is haunted by Froyim, a Jewish one-time comedian. The subtle tale never reveals whether Froyim is truly a ghost—or a figment of Fritz’s troubled mind. And why is Froyim Fritz’s particular doppelganger? Did they somehow connect during the War?
The fact is that Froyim, appearing first as a dummy on ventriloquist Fritz’s lap, gradually emerges as Fritz’s alter ego, speaking with him and through him. The vaudeville scene, with its jokes, shticks, and soft shoe numbers, is juxtaposed sharply against the tragic tale, calling to mind the Pagliacci figure. Fritz’s comfortable life, in which his German colleagues prefer to forget the past, is gradually disrupted. His angered wife points out (in song) that a job is just a job (whether in a bakery or a concentration camp), that he should indeed forget the past.
John W. Cooper has assembled a fine cast for this powerful tale set to music. Matthew Hardy, in particular, is memorable as the indestructible Froyim, with solid support work from T. J. Mannix (Fritz), Richard Watson, Joan Barber, Erin Cronican, and Dennis Holland. The latter four move easily from character to character, as the story evolves through flashbacks. And the colorful Tracy Stark serves as both accompanist and narrator.
Beim’s lyrics are a treasure, wedded to the Barkan/Barnes music. The first act shines with its biting lyrics, but grows blander when songs turn to nostalgia (memories of lost loves). The show inevitably loses its pace, its bite, in these quiet, reflective moments of the second act.
Yet, taken as a whole, “Fritz and Froyim,” with its fresh approach to an enduring message, is a musical piece of much promise.
-- Irene Backalenick
May 31, 2007