Review Roundup: RAGS at Park Theatre in London - What Did the Critics Think?
RAGS is a heart-warming and powerful musical, which tells the story of Russian immigrant Rebecca, who, with her son David, travels to America in search of a better life. Rebecca must decide what matters more to her - staying true to her roots or adopting a new cultural identity in an attempt to 'fit in'.
RAGS has a book by Joseph Stein, revised book by David Thompson, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and music by Charles Strouse. Starring Carloyn Maitland as Rebecca,Dave Willietts as Avram and Sam Attwater as Bronfman.
Let's see what the critics are saying...
Mert Dilek, BroadwayWorld: Carolyn Maitland's Rebecca exudes benignity and grit, her affirmative presence anchoring many of the scenes. As Avram, Dave Willett delivers an affecting portrayal of paternal anxiety, and Jeremy Rose packs well-tuned humour into Jack. Other notable performances belong to Debbie Chazen (as Avram's sister Anna), Rachel Izen (as Avram's friend Rachel), and Martha Kirby (as Bella).
Rosemary Waugh, Time Out: Bronagh Lagan's production, which originally played at the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester, is entertaining and an easy watch. Snippets of klezmer and era-appropriate ragtime percolate through the score, and the songs come thick and fast. Carolyn Maitland, in particular, is excellent as Rebecca, with a voice as clear, sharp and enjoyable as a classic martini. But as a whole, the musical never quite escapes the fact that the lyrics are generally unmemorable, or that the characters' personal storylines are underdrawn.
John Nathan, Metro: But the surprise is how much early 20th-century New York resonates with today. In Rags, populist chants of 'Take Our Country Back' that echo through the city chime with 'Make America Great Again' and even our own 'Take Back Control'. And although the score is good - or beautiful where it combines Sal and Rebecca's Catholic and Jewish prayer - it is this politics that makes Rags so rich. Like an immigrant who has to fight for what they deserve, this troubled show has finally claimed its place in (musical theatre) history.
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: Bronagh Lagan's audacious production accentuates the parallels between attitudes to immigration then and now. She covers up the schematic plot and mushy songs by Charles Strouse and Stephen Schwartz with energetic choreography from Philip Michael Thomas and big performances. All the youngsters are shiny-eyed idealists, the elders comically kvetching misanthropes.
Tim Bano, The Stage: Carolyn Maitland is superb as Rebecca, a woman trying to rebuild her life. She aces the big numbers. Alex Gibson-Giorgio's bright-eyed enthusiasm as Italian union organiser Saul is infectious, and there's beautiful, moving dignity in Dave Willetts' Avram, especially towards the end.
Mark Shenton, London Theatre: Bronagh Lagan's production, first seen at the Hope Mill, Manchester's thrusting fringe powerhouse of musicals that has previously brought Hair, Pippin and Yank! to London, has been lovingly staged on an evocative set by Gregor Donnelly, constructed out of banks of old suitcases, to bring out the full power of this gorgeous, life-affirming show.
Danny Coleman-Cooke, BritishTheatre.com: A very talented Klezmer band, well integrated into the ensemble, was a nice touch, while Gregor Donnelly's clever set, using suitcases as backdrops and furniture, serves as a constant reminder of the transient and temporary life that faced many early immigrants. Rags is a perennial work in progress, and it is not perfect in its current form. However, it is an aptly timed and brilliantly performed production of a musical that deserves to be better known.
Hannah Storey, Pocket Size Theatre: The show is compelling from start to finish and has an exceptionally strong cast. From ensemble to lead, the talent on stage is truly brilliant. Actress Carolyn Maitland deserves credit for her extraordinary performance as Rebecca, who seemingly lacks empathy at times, but shows immense motherly selfishness to create a better life for her son. The friendships and romantic relationships in the musical are refreshing and surprisingly not too cliché. Strouse and Schwartz's music is stunning; how they have combined Eastern European sounds with American Ragtime, Jazz and Street music into one score is incomparable. The riffs are catchy, although borderline repetitive. They have brought in violinists, an accordion and clarinet player to be the 'traditional' Klezner band onstage, this livened up the scenes and incorporated the ensemble into the action nicely.