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The Original Production of Rags

Jarethan
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The Original Production of Rags#1
Posted: 8/18/15 at 10:56pm

I recently purchased the cast recording on a whim.  I loved most of it and think there is some great music.  If I did not know the facts, I would have assumed it was a major hit, based on the recording.

 

So my question...directed to anyone who saw the show: why was it such a failure?  Was the show actually awful (a la Mack and Mable), were the producers inexperienced, other?

Would love to hear about the production, including audience response.

Updated On: 8/18/15 at 10:56 PM
Wilmingtom
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The Original Production of Rags#2
Posted: 8/19/15 at 4:40am

It's actually a studio recording with most of the original cast and Julia Migenes stepping in for Teresa Stratas because her record lable wouldn't allow her to do the recording.  Director Gene Saks was fired out of town and Schwartz took over the direction, which was a problem.  It was over produced and there were too many plot threads to follow.  The authors have rewritten it several times since but have never quite solved the problems.  It is, however, one of Strouse's most glorious scores.  By all reports Stratas was a handful and a good time was had by few.  I'm not sure that the title helped.  Perhaps "Children Of the Wind" would have been more appealing.

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Reginald Tresilian
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The Original Production of Rags#3
Posted: 8/19/15 at 7:54am

I only ever heard positive things about Stratas's behavior (including from someone in the show).

There was much to like about it, including some gorgeous music--and singing--but as Wilmingtom says, there seemed to be a good half dozen plot lines. But Stratas, Kuhn, and Kert were all wonderful, I thought.

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Auggie27
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The Original Production of Rags#4
Posted: 8/19/15 at 9:13am

I saw it on B'way, and again at the Papermill.  The book, alas, never quite works.  It's ambitious, to be sure. Tries to be nothing less than a full portrait of the immigrant experience. Yet therein lies the problem. One of the major events it covers -- the Triangle Factory fire -- flies by late in act two and kills off a major character with insufficient emotional impact.  That sort of cavalcade effect, aiming for epic sweep, means nothing gets enough attention as pure storytelling.  

 

But the score, what a score!  I can put on the overture and tear up. It's Strouse's masterwork, in my estimation.  I love all of it.  Stratas?  She was remarkable.  "Blame it on the Summer Night," a song one might not imagine the great opera diva handling with ease, was stunning, all the more so because she was so able to capture a particular flavor of yearning. And of course, "Children of the Wind" -- well, she put our hearts in our throats.  And took the roof off. I have only strong memories of her performance. 

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Updated On: 8/19/15 at 09:13 AM
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Kad
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The Original Production of Rags#5
Posted: 8/19/15 at 9:50am
I saw the most recent revision of the material when it was presented at Marymount Manhattan College three years ago. It still suffers from the issue of too many plotlines (all of which could be the main plot but are here too simplistic to be taken seriously), too many digressions, and a lack of focus.

I think there are some very good moments in the score- I am especially fond of the title song, actually- but it just doesn't cohere well as a show. It dutifully hits all the main historical points (Tammany Hall! Triangle Factory fire! Yiddish theatre! Discrimination!) in a way that makes it come across as very... educational.
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henrikegerman
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The Original Production of Rags#6
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:05am

As I recall, Stratas missed a great many performances, I believe due to illness.  But I don't remember any rumblings she was difficult to work with.

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Reginald Tresilian
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The Original Production of Rags#7
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:15am

Stratas famously missed a lot of performances at the Met due to illness, but I don't recall hearing that she missed performances of "Rags" (of which there weren't that many anyway). Of course, I could be wrong.

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WhizzerMarvin
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The Original Production of Rags#8
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:21am

I saw the recent production that the Beautiful Soup Theater put on. The book is too ambitious for its own good, but you have to respect the creative team for trying. There are easily as many plotlines as Ragtime, but without the balance of having Mother and Coalhouse's stories. Characters seemed to waltz in and out of the piece and the second act in particular seemed to fall apart story-wise. 

Still, the score is so wonderful; I'll never understand why "Blame It On the Summer Night" didn't become a standard, even in cabaret circles. The cast recording will always remain a delight, and the bootlegs floating around of Stratas reveal a beautifully sung and emotionally charged performance that I'm sorry wasn't more officially captured on disc. 

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doodlenyc
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The Original Production of Rags#9
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:21am

I missed the Broadway version, but Jewish rep did a great job in the 90's with a much smaller production. It starred Ann Crumb and Christa Moore. I loved it.

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Mr Roxy
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The Original Production of Rags#10
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:22am

Great score.You have to feel bad for Strouse who keeps turning out great scores only to come out on the losing end as another flop on his resume.

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Peter2
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The Original Production of Rags#11
Posted: 8/19/15 at 11:16am

I only saw it once, decades ago during previews of the original Broadway production, and I retain only unfocused memories of what I remember thinking was an unfocused show. The one indelible memory I retain is of Stratas in that finale, filling the theater with all the glory of her voice. Thrilling beyond compare. I'd love to see a revised revival with Audra McDonald or an opera singer of equal stature.

Gothampc
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The Original Production of Rags#12
Posted: 8/19/15 at 3:47pm

Rags opened in August of 1986 and closed very quickly afterwards.  18 Previews and 4 performances.  I wonder if they had waited and opened in September if it would have had more performances?  August is the worst time to open a musical on Broadway.  Yes there were flaws in the book, but if they had waited until after Labor Day to open, maybe they could have limped it along until December?

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markypoo
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The Original Production of Rags#13
Posted: 8/19/15 at 5:06pm

I saw Rags at a preview on Friday, August 8, 1986.

Charles Strouse's son Nicholas (Brighton Beach Memoirs) was sitting near me with his girlfriend.

I agree with the comments made by those who saw the original version, but 4 performances - the show really came and went!

That sort of thing happened much more frequently in those days.

Cesare2
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The Original Production of Rags#14
Posted: 8/19/15 at 10:05pm

IIRC, Joan Micklin SIlver was the original director, who was fired and replaced by Gene Saks.  Also, there was no overture in the original production.  The overture on the recording was put together for the recording.  Also, for what it's worth, Strouse praises Stratas to the hilt in his "Put on a Happy Face."

There are clips from the show on YouTube.  But here's one of Stratas as a contestant on "To Tell the Truth":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6P2IHOtQSU