Rags the Musical (Park Theatre)

Rags could be described as a sequel to Fiddler on the Roof, as it follows a family of immigrants who have left Russia for a new life in America.

First staged in 1986, it failed to find an audience and ran for just four performances. Now, with a revised book, new songs added and old ones reordered, this becomes an intimate tale of dreams, love, loss, and ambition.

Rebecca and her young son David meet Bella en route to the New Country, and they are soon accepted into both Bella’s extended family and into the dressmaking business they run from the living room. A would-be musician, Ben, and an Italian firebrand, Sal, are their friends, but outside their little bubble they feel like outsiders.

Oisin Nolan-Power and the company of Rags
Oisin Nolan-Power and the company of Rags

Stephen Schwartz has been closely involved in developing this new Rags, which is the first of two of his shows to open in London this year (the other being The Prince of Egypt at the Dominion). In the small-scale setting of Park 200, this transfer from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre brings a lost classic back into the mainstream.

The performances from Carolyn Maitland (Rebecca), Dave Willets (Avram, Bella’s father), Rachel Izen (Rachel), Martha Kirby (Bella), Oisen Nolan-Power (Ben), and Samuel Jones (David) were particularly impressive, and Gregor Donnelly’s set full of stacked suitcases gave the strong impression of the life of a travelling Jew.

Joseph Stein passed away in 2010, but David Thompson has taken the baton from his mentor to create a more coherent story, removing Rebecca’s errant husband from the narrative while retaining the issue of immigrant exploitation.

Carolyn Maitland and the company of Rags
Carolyn Maitland and the company of Rags

Charles Strouse’s music and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics have woven a score which feels old-fashioned but which has many high points, such as the double duet Three Sunny Rooms, the resited Children of the Wind (now a closing hymn of hope), and the ragtime feel of Yankee Boy.

I’m glad I caught Bronagh Lagan’s vibrant production before it closes. It continues at the Park Theatre until 8 February.

Images by Pamela Raith.

LouReviews purchased a discounted ticket to see Rags.

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