Park Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
Rags from Stephen Schwartz and Charles Strouse is a show that is set in New York City’s Lower East Side around the turn of the 20th century. Seen through the eyes of Rebecca, a penniless seamstress straight off the boat together with her young son David, the tale largely of Manhattan’s impoverished Jewish community, but with enough references to the Jews’ Italian migrant neighbours to define it as a non-denominational commentary upon immigration.
The book is by Joseph Stein and it has long been suggested that Rags represents a sequel to his earlier Fiddler On The Roof. But where that show achieved its punch through simple human challenges, beautifully told, Rags is more of a melting pot of issues that, combined, lack the same emotional heft. There is a narrative here that veers too easily into cliche and this perhaps is the reason behind the show’s failure to achieve lasting Broadway success.
That being said, director Bronagh Lagan has assembled some gifted talent in her Park Theatre company with Carolyn Maitland as Rebecca driving the show. Maitland is never less than magnificent in all her work and here she both captures and stirs our hearts in her take on the beautiful, driven young mother that she plays – her solo delivery of the closing number ‘Children Of The Wind’ is stunning.
Dave Willetts puts in a masterly turn as the kindly Avram who takes Rebecca into his home. There is a confident experience in Willetts’ performance that captures some moments of complex nuance. Opposite him, is Rachel Izen’s Rachel in another genius delivery that masterfully displays understated humour finely contrasted with the wry and wise experience of a long life, fully lived. The pair’s duet of ‘Three Sunny Rooms’ is a highlight.
In charge of Strouse’s compositions is musical director Joe Bunker, who not only manages half of his eight-piece band from across two lofty corners of the stage but also conducts four onstage actor-musos too. Credit to all the musicians – the score straddles a multitude of genres with Bunker’s band deftly delivering across the evening.
Rags may be more schmaltz than substance but in this, its London premiere as a fully staged production, it is still a fine example of off-West End musical theatre.
Runs until 8th FebruaryPhoto credit: Pamela Raith