Thursday, November 9, 2017

CT Theater Review: Rags -- Goodspeed



 Sean MacLaughlin, Christian Michael Camporin and Mitch Greenberg (seated),
Samantha Massell and Adam Heller. Photo: Diane Sobolewski
Rags
Music by Charles Strouse
Lyrics by Stephen Scwartz
Book by David Thompson, adapted from the original book by Joseph Stein
Directed by Rob Ruggiero
Goodspeed
Through Dec. 10

By Lauren Yarger
Like the immigrants who come to America in this musical, Rags gets a second chance at life in this Goodspeed production directed by Rob Ruggiero.

David Thompson re-imagines the book, originally written by Joseph Stein. It is bolstered by a score by Charles Strouse and Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and a current political environment that has put interest in immigration center stage.

In 1910, Russian immigrant widow Rebecca Herhkowitz (Samantha Massell)  and her son, David (Connecticut native Christian Michael Camporin) arrive at Ellis Island with empty pockets, but hearts full of hope for a new life. While on board the ship bringing them to their new home, Rebecca becomes friends with young Bella Cohen (Sara Kapner), who is on her way to reunite with her father, Avram Cohen, who works on New York's lower east side in the garment industry. Bella convinces Avram to vouch for Rebecca, a gifted seamstress, and David, and the mother and son are given a place in the family business and home.

Rounding out the tenement environment are Avram's sister, Anna Blumberg (Emily Zacharias), her husband, Jack (Mitch Greenberg), an employee of the dressmaking business named Ben Levitowitz (Nathan Salstone), who turns Bella's head against her father's objections, and neighbors Rachel Brodsky (Lori Wilner), who has her sights set on Avram, and Italian Sal Russo (seam MacLaughlin) who celebrates Sabbath with the group and falls for Rebecca when he's not spending his time trying to convince workers to strike for better wages and conditions.

Interfering with that last love story is underhanded, wealthy Max Bronfman (David Harris) who uses his influence in the garment industry and the promise of material goods to keep Rebecca's romantic interest, even while he takes advantage of her dress design ability and offers jobs in unsafe factories.

The sweeping story unfolds with the help of more than 30 songs, a set (designed by Michael Schweikardt) enhanced by projections of historic photos (design by Luke Cantarella) and lighted by Designer John Lasiter, with period costumes designed by Linda Cho.

If the plot seems a bit predictable, there are some subtleties that balance it out. We care about the characters and are rooting for them to succeed. All of the performances are engaging. Ruggiero keeps things from getting too saccharine or political. Parker Esse's understated choreography provides movement without eclipsing the storytelling. Orchestrations, as usual are by Dan DeLange with Michael O'Flaherty music directing. David Loud provides vocal arrangements (volume on some vocals seems to high -- design by Jay Hilton).

Rags embraces the American dream through Dec. 10 at Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main Street, East Haddam. Performances are Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm (with select performances at 2 pm); Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm). Tickets are $29-$89: goodspeed.org; 860-873-8668.

Ensemble: JD Daw, Ellie Fishman, Danny Lindgren, Sarah Solie, Jeff Williams, Giovanni DiGabrielle, Catalina Gaglioti, Gordon Beck.

Thanksgiving Week Performances;
Nov. 20 2 and 7:30 pm; Nov. 24 2 and 8 pm; Nov. 25 3 and 8 pm; Nov. 26 6:30 pm

Thanksgiving Food Drive: Monday, Nov. 20 at the 2 and 7:30 pm. Buy one ticket, get one free for select seats with a generous non-perishable food donation to benefit the East Haddam Food Bank. Additionally, Goodspeed will be collecting donations at all performances during Thanksgiving week, Nov. 20-26.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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