Park Theatre, London – until 8 February 2020
Originally developed by Fiddler on the Roof writer, Joseph Stein as somewhat of a sequel, Rags has been reworked many times sing the original Broadway production closed after only four performances. Lucky for us, the Hope Mill Theatre production was rather more a success and has transferred to London’s Park Theatre.
David Thompson’s rewrites have made this a sleek production that ebbs and flows well, whilst retaining an ambitious side. With four onstage musicians and wonderful performances from the cast, Rags is certainly successful in its ambition.
Opening with a solitary violinist who is extremely reminiscent of Fiddler, the musical follows two Jewish girls as they make port in New York and try to create a new life for themselves and their families. There are various subplots about worker’s rights, the Jewish contribution to art and culture, conformity and of course, romance. Most of the time the musical is paced well but there are still times which feel a little slow, or confusing as too much is happening at once.
However, overall this musical isn’t about the plot, but rather the human experience and genuine struggles faced by people trying to live the American dream that was promised to them. It’s a clear window to the vile anti-semitic views held and the trials which are unfortunately still faced today. It’s quite shocking that a musical written in the eighties, still has so much relevance today.
Whilst the songs (music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz) are not individually particularly memorable, the overall moods created are very moving and do the job to tell the story, even if you won’t leave the theatre humming the tunes. Nick Barstow’s arrangements are beautiful and the cast give exceptional performances.
Carolyn Maitland gives a sensational performance as Rebecca. Her solo moments are complete vocal treats and she leads the show with a delightful nuance. Alex Gibson-Giorgio is instantly likeable and vocally exemplary as the Italian immigrant, Sal. As bright eyed Bella, Martha Kirby is an absolute vocal star who brings a the youth and vulnerability of the character to life excellently. Oisin Nolan-Power as Ben and Rachel Izen as Rachel also give stand out performances.
Bronagh Lagan’s production has heart in spades and provides a real impact through the thoughtful way its themes are tackled. It’s a life-affirming show which will make you want to hug those close to you a little tighter.
photo credit: Pamela Raith