Five years after Bernie Madoff’s conviction and sentencing, the Ponzi schemer is as visible as ever in our popular culture. But after many plays and films that treated him with utmost seriousness, Madoff also became a target of satire, beginning with the 2011 comedy film, “Tower Heist,” in which Alan Alda played a Jewish financial whiz who robbed working people of their pension money. And then there was Lee Blessing’s 2013 darkly comic play, “A User’s Guide to Hell, Featuring Bernard Madoff.”
Now, In Michael Roberts’ new Off-Broadway musical revue, “Greed: A Musical for Our Times,” Madoff appears as a celebrated bigwig who delights in pulling the wool over his clients’ eyes. The farce, which opened last week in Midtown, debuts just a few weeks after Madoff’s latest jailhouse interview in which he said that he feels no remorse for his Jewish victims. Directed by Christopher Scott, “Greed,” which portrays Madoff before his spectacular fall, when his investors still saw him as a hero, focuses on a broad spectrum of financial chicanery, from slip-and-fall insurance fraud to unnecessary procedures by doctors. It features send-ups of a number of well-known people, including Jamie Dimon (CEO of JP Morgan Chase), Pope Francis and Lance Armstrong — all of whom are portrayed as either perpetrators or opponents of undue financial gain.
Neal Mayer plays Madoff as a kind of Miss America-style beauty pageant winner, parading around the stage wearing the con man’s trademark black raincoat with his gray hair askew. “He’s a mensch among men,” goes Roberts’ wry, rhyming song, “It’s Bernie,” performed by James Donegan. “No one will ever call Jews dishonest again.”
Roberts was raised in a Conservative Jewish home in Dix Hills on Long Island. What he takes from Judaism, he said, is its “moral code,” its “objective morality that some things are wrong no matter how you spin them.” His prior musicals include “Golf,” which has been staged in 11 countries, and the award-winning “The Fartiste,” based on a true story of a 19th-century Frenchman with a bizarre talent for making sounds with his, well, you can guess. Another musical, “The Goldstein Variations,” about three generations of a Jewish family, opens Off-Broadway later this month.
What infuriates him the most about Madoff, Roberts told The Jewish Week, is that he “reinforced every negative stereotype about Jews” and thus “damaged us as a people.”
Roberts noted that he feels great pride in the contribution of Jewish composers to the Broadway musical. “Whenever I write songs, I have Richard Rodgers on one shoulder and Jule Styne on the other,” he said. “I feel a kind of fiduciary or ethical responsibility to carry on their legacy.”
“Greed” is in an open-ended run at New World Stages/Stage 2, 340 W. 50th St. Performances are Wednesdays 7 p.m., and Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. For tickets, $40-$65, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.