You may not heard of Rags, but perhaps you should have. It may not be a mega-hit like Fiddler on the Roof, but in some ways it holds a similar appeal.
And, no, this isn’t Ragtime—Rags predates that more famous musical by over a decade. Think of it a bit like a spiritual sequel to Fiddler. It’s the story of Jewish immigrants struggling in the Lower East Side in the early 20th century (for example, one rather tragic plot line involves the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire). And it had a heck of a writing team—score by Charles Strouse (Annie), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked and like half of your favorite Disney movies), and book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof!).
And yet, Rags was a miserable commercial failure, closing after only four regular performances (but 18 previews— a fortuitous number!). However, it has since built up a cult following that even now is giving it new life, including a 20th anniversary concert last year featuring some big Broadway names.
And next, Rags will get another chance at a regional theater in Connecticut—but what does that mean?
Not only will Rags play the Goodspeed Opera House from October 6 to December 10, but it will be partially rewritten. Stein died in 2010, so David Thompson (Kander and Ebb’s Scottsboro Boys) has revised the show’s book.
The cast will include Samantha Massell, who played Hodel in the most recent Broadway run of Fiddler on the Roof (there’s that Fiddler connection again!). Other actors include Sara Kapner (in a role originated by Judy Kuhn), Adam Heller, and Mitch Greenberg.
Could this production be out-of-town tryouts for something bigger? Two years ago, The Rothschilds got so rewritten (over forty years after its original run, no less), that it was re-Christened (er—re-Jewvinated) as Rothschild & Sons off-Broadway. That production didn’t move back on to Broadway, but Rags has the appeal of being a show that didn’t get fair shakes the first time around. It’s ripe for the rewriting to try to prime it for contemporary audiences. Plus, stories about immigrants are in— just look at the success of the Folksbiene’s Amerike – The Golden Land.
So keep your eyes peeled for news about this musical— there could be life in it, yet.