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Review: Rags, The Musical at Park Theatre

24 January, 2020 — By Clair Chapwell

Carolyn Maitland and Martha Kirby in Rags, the Musical. Photo: Pamela Raith

FROM the very first note, as the cast and klezmer band enter, Rags is a musical soaked in atmosphere.

Director Bronagh Lagan’s non-stop, high-energy piece and the talented performers keeps the stage overflowing with life, from the crowded boat that brought Jewish immigrants to New York to Ellis Island immigration – “anyone who’s had TB, get in that line!” – and a packed sweatshop to a Yiddish theatre and the July 4 celebrations.

Designer Gregor Donnelly’s versatile set becomes the wall of a tenement, a pile of suitcases, and a New York skyline.

Rags tells the story of a young widowed Jewish mother Rebecca (Carolyn Maitland) and her son David bound for the promised land: “Jerusalem? No! We will be Americans!” They find a friend in Bella (Martha Kirby) who is travelling to join her father.

Bella’s family take Rebecca in to work in the family sweatshop and together they discover love and anti-semitism: “No dogs, no Jews.” The latter is pointed up in the cleverly choreographed Greenhorns by American gents in boaters (Adam Crossley and Matthew Gent).

The joy of Rags is its score (Charles Strouse) and lyrics (Stephen Schwartz). Music underpins the piece courtesy of the four-piece klezmer band—two fiddles, accordion and clarinet.

Dave Willets (Avram) and Rachel Izen (Rachel). Photo: Pamela Raith

The songs have a wide range and character. In addition to powerful solos by Rebecca and the title song, an angry duet with Bella, Three Sunny Rooms shows off the sly wit and vocal versatility of Avram (Dave Willetts) and Rachel (Rachel Izen).

My one quibble would be its length. Rags was many stories that had no endings. At just under three hours, I’d have left the theatre happier if they had left me wanting more.

Until February 8
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