A Beginners Guide To Rags The Musical

Rags the musical opens tonight at the Park Theatre in London for a strictly limited season. Whilst Rags enjoys a cult following amongst hardcore musical theatre fans, many are unfamiliar with this classic score.

Rags musical Park Theatre
Martha Kirby, Dave Willetts, Jude Muir and Carolyn Maitland. Photo: Pamela Raith

Who wrote Rags the musical?
Rags has a book by Joseph Stein, revised book by David Thompson, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and music by Charles Strouse.

The writing team is a veritable Who’s Who of Broadway musicals. Joseph Stein was described as a “writer of charm and simplicity”. Many will know his two biggest successes Zorba (which played at Her Majesty’s Theatre, London in 1967) and Fiddler On The Roof which held the record as the longest-running production (musical or non-musical) in theatre history (3,242 performances), eclipsed only by Grease. These records would later be smashed in the years after the premiere of Cats.

Multi Award-winning lyricist and composer Stephen Schwartz’s career spans over four decades and includes musical hits including Godspell, Pippin, and Wicked. He also contributed lyrics to a number of films including Pocahontas, The Hunchback Of Notre Dame, The Prince Of Egypt, and Enchanted.

Charles Strouse is an American composer and lyricist best known for writing the music for Broadway musicals including Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy, It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s Superman, Applause and Annie.

Rags musical Park Theatre London
Martha Kirby (Bella), Carolyn Maitland (Rebecca) in Rags. Photo: Pamela Raith

What is Rags about?
Rebecca, a Russian Jewish immigrant to the US at the turn of the century finds, to her dismay, that her husband who has preceded her, is determined to assimilate the American way and lose his ethnic identity in order to climb the social ladder. Subplots concern an elderly immigrant, his daughter and their respective romances, one of which ends tragically. It is a saga of hope and disappointments, of power and greed, of strength and love.

Rags Park Theatre London
The cast of Rags. Photo: Pamela Raith

The Characters
Rebecca Hershkowitz
David – her ten year old son
Nathan Hershkowitz (Harris) – her husband
Saul – a radical union organiser
Bella Cohen – a 17 year old immigrant, Rebecca’s friend
Avram – Bella’s father
Ben Levitowitz – a young immigrant in love with Bella
Rachel – a plump widow with her eye on Avram
Rosa – a co-worker in Rebecca’s sweatshop
Tammany Politicians: “Big Tim” Sullivan, Frankie and Mike
Sophie Tucker
Morris
Morris’s mother
Immigrants, Cynical Americans, Ellis Island Guards, Klezmer musicians, Yiddish Theatre Actors; Workers, Neighbours, Shoppers & Strikers

Rags Production History
The Broadway production opened on August 21, 1986 at the Mark Hellinger Theatre with little advance sale and to mostly indifferent reviews, and it closed after only four performances (and 18 previews). Despite closing early, it garnered a good deal of attention during the awards season, receiving Tony Award nominations for Best Musical, among others.

The Goodspeed Opera House presented an extensive revisal of the show in 2017, which started previews on October 6, opened on October 25, and closed on December 10. The musical had a new book by David Thompson, and several new songs by Schwartz and Strouse.

The UK premiere of the revised version of Rags was produced at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, playing from 2 March to 6 April 2019. This production now transfers to London’s Park Theatre until 8 February, 2020.

Park Theatre
The cast of Rags. Photo:: Pamela Raith

Who’s In The Cast?
The cast of Rags at Park Theatre London includes Carolyn Maitland (Ghost, Groundhog Day, Miss Saigon), Dave Willetts (Les Miserables, The Phantom Of The Opera, Cats), and Sam Attwater (Eastenders, Hollyoaks, End Of The Rainbow).

Also in the cast are Debbie Chazen as Anna, Alex Gibson-Giorgio as Sal, Rachel Izen as Rachel, Samuel Jones and Jude Muir as David, Martha Kirby as Bella, Oisin Nolan-Power as Ben and Jeremy Rose as Jack. Completing the cast are Arthur Boan, Angela Caesar, Adam Crossley, Drew Dillon, Matthew Gent and Natasha Karp.

The Rags Creative Team
Rags The Musical is directed by Bronagh Lagan (Little Women, Broken Wings), with musical direction by Joe Bunker, choreography by Philip Michael Thomas, orchestrations by Nick Barstow, set and costume design by Gregor Donnelly, lighting design by Derek Anderson, sound design by James Nicholson, casting by Jane Deitch and children’s casting by Keston and Keston.

Rags runs at the Park Theatre until 8 February. Book Tickets Here.

 

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