BWW Reviews: RAGS, The Lyric Theatre, April 28 2014
On Monday the Lyric Theatre became a temporary home to a large, famous and exceedingly talented cast and band, who performed Rags - all in aid of Centrepoint, the UK's leading charity for homeless people.
Joseph Stein's epic musical (with glorious music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by the wonderful Stephen Schwartz) tells of Jewish immigrants to New York in 1900 and some of the trials they habitually faced. In this concert version, much of the story was given through Maureen Lipman's excellent narration, rather than through scene work. The songs, however, were performed with great aplomb and were often accompanied by full dance routines, courtesy of the Arts Educational School.
The cast were excellent, with Lipman providing gentle, compassionate narration of an often dramatic tale, both inspirational and tragic. Caroline Sheen's vocals excelled all expectation and particularly her performance in the second act was very moving. Young Sebastian Croft shone in the role of David, giving particularly impressive vocals and Leila Benn Harris performed the title number absolutely beautifully. The rest of the cast was also strong.
This performance was only a shadow of what the company are really capable of, though. Because of the concert form, little dialogue was included and the piece was far less varied in its dynamics than the musical is when performed in its entirety. While Strouse's instrumentation really is wonderful and Schwartz's lyrics are vibrant, this song-upon-song rendition of Rags didn't provide the light and shade necessary to make for a truly emotive performance. Had we had more of a chance to get to know characters and to see their relationships develop, this concert would have been more successful. A run of the show-proper, performed by this cast, would really be something to behold.
However, this evening was remarkable for other reasons. A little-performed, but meaningful, thoughtful and extremely well-scored piece was showcased for the first time in the West End, starring some of the UK's greats from theatre and musical theatre - all in aid of a charity, the importance of whose work is becomes apparent to anyone who walks through London on their way from the theatre. Rarely have the lyrics of "Children of the Wind" rung more true.
Rags was performed on Monday 28th April 2014 at the Lyric Theatre.