The beloved cult-favorite musical, Rags, a unique collaboration between lyricist Stephen Schwartz and composer Charles Strouse, will be heard in a revised version new to the New York City area March 15-16 at the Metro Baptist Church on 40th Street in Manhattan.
The Storefront is presenting the benefit concert, with Anne Runolfsson (Victor/Victoria, Les Misérables) starring as Russian immigrant-mama, Rebecca, and Leslie Kritzer (Paper Mill's Funny Girl) as sweatshop worker Bella. The 1986 musical played only four performances on Broadway but earned a loyal following after a cast album was released.
There have been several versions of the script and score in the years that followed its Broadway bow. Joseph Stein penned the original book, about a Russian-Jewish woman and her son who come to New York City in 1910 to join the husband-father who went before them. The show teems with archetypes that represent New York society and brims with varying musical sounds of the period — rags, Klezmer, Irish ballad, patriotic march.
This is the New York debut of this revision, which is different from the version seen at Paper Mill Playhouse in 1999.
Proceeds benefit The Storefront, the nonprofit company devoted to plays, musicals, cabaret talent and new songwriters. Storefront artistic director Phil Geoffrey Bond directs, with musical staging by Robert Jay Cronin (who is also the artistic director of the Ergo Theatre Company). Bond told Playbill On-Line this version of the show reflects changes made since the Walnut Street Theatre staging in 2000. "There's now a 'Rags' reprise in the second act, 'Penny a Tune' is now sung mostly by the street Klezmers, and not Rachel, and lots of other stuff throughout," Bond told Playbill On-Line. "Most of the changes in the script — and there are many — are not reflected in the scores or orchestration, and the musical changes don't exist on paper from the Walnut Street production and certainly don't match the Paper Mill production. Sean Michael Flowers, our musical director, and I have spent hours at the Rodgers and Hammerstein Annex, a big warehouse on 28th Street, pulling Michael Starobin's original orchestrations and old drafts of the score out of files. We've put stuff back in that was cut out of town and during previews, lifted melodies from other places to match new lyrics..."
The authors have been invited, and Schwartz will attend one of the shows, Bond said.
The cast includes Diane Bers, Stephen Dean Brennan, Christopher Caswell, Michael Coco, Brandon Cutrell, Eric Forand, Courtney Gable, David Gaspin, David Gurland, Stephanie Judkins, Teresa Kelsey, Karie Koppel, Matt Leahy, Karen Mack, Marina MacNeal, Sidney Myer, Libby Anne Russler, Noelle Teagno, Walker Vreeland, Alex Odya-Weis and Marti Williams.
"[Phil Bond] e-mailed me to see if I was interested in playing the part of Rebecca," Runolfsson told Playbill On-Line's Diva Talk writer, Andrew Gans, "I was intrigued, but had just committed to a concert at Town Hall, Broadway by the Year 1933, which is scheduled for the same weekend. I initially felt that it might be more then I could handle as I would be in L.A. the week before singing in a Johnny Mercer concert for S.T.AG.E. L.A., and I have seven different engagements all over the U.S. In April. But, after I read the script and listened to the score, I couldn't say no. I had not seen the original production. I also felt that the character of Rebecca was a woman I wanted to know better. She is daring, curious, passionate, loyal, open. She embodies many qualities I admire."
Runolfsson was won over by the score, which many consider the richest-ever by Strouse (Bye Bye Birdie, Annie). "The score — oh my God! The melody line of 'Children of the Wind' is so gloriously beautiful and inspired. I have yet to sing it without crying. The combination of the lyric and the melody is profound. This is my personal favorite score of Charles'. I can only imagine how disappointing it was for all the people involved when the original production closed so abruptly. It is a show with incredible heart."
Performances are 8 PM March 15-16. Metro Baptist Church is at 410 W. 40th St. Advance tickets, at $30, may be purchased at www.smarttix.com, or by calling (212) 206-1515.
The original Rags company included Teresa Stratas, Larry Kert, Lonny Price, Marcia Lewis, Dick Latessa, Judy Kuhn and Marcia Lewis. Julia Migenes sang the role of Rebecca on the cast album, released many months after the close of the show.
The Storefront was founded in November of 1999. Its previous musical evenings include Taking the Wheel: The Music of John Bucchino, It's An Art: The Music of Stephen Schwartz, Beginnings: The Music of Brett Kristofferson, Arise, a poignant and star-studded benefit concert for the World Trade Center tragedy, and the highly-lauded Gashole: The Wit and Wisdom of the '70s, still running in New York after five months.
To view Playbill On-Line's feature about the 1999 Paper Mill revival of Rags, click here.
— By Kenneth Jones