Rags at Goodspeed Opera House

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- bringing my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

Today I review Goodspeed Opera House’s new production of ‘Rags’- a musical from the mid-1980’s.

What? You say you never heard of it? That would mean you missed it’s run on Broadway. Well, it was easy to miss. You see, it ran for exactly 3 days before it closed. So, why revive a Broadway flop?

It was created by Broadway legends Joseph Stein (the book writer and Tony Award-winner for ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ and ‘Zorba’), with lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (who would later create music and lyrics for ‘Wicked,’ ‘Pippin’ and ‘Godspell’) and music by Charles Strouse (who scored ‘Annie’ and ‘Bye Bye Birdie’). After seeing those names- and learning the story is about new immigrants to America in 1910 and the struggles they face in their new country, almost a follow-up to what happens in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’- it clearly makes sense to look deeper and I credit Goodspeed for deciding to revive it. Certainly the immigrant story and the prejudice and resentment they face makes it timely.

Director Rob Ruggiero and the creative team have done great work here overcoming several challenges, as they discovered Stein’s original story needed revamping to make it work. First problem? Stein died in 2010. So they brought in David Thompson and he, as Ruggiero noted, “refocused” the story on the character of Rebecca; played in a marvelous, captivating performance by Samantha Massell, who was on Broadway in 2015 in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ as Tevye’s daughter, Hodel. Massel is the heart of this show and her beautiful singing gives the musical score wings. She’s excellent!

Samantha Massel and David Harris; cast photos: Diane Sobolewski

In fact, all the key actors are terrific- Sara Kapner as Bella and Nathan Salstone as Ben are a couple you love rooting for; David Harris as Max is appropriately slick as Rebecca’s feared boss and Lori Wilner provides nice comic relief but watch for Sean MacLaughlin. As Sal, he makes an electric entrance and goes on to steal most of his scenes- and I mean that as a compliment. He’s a talent to watch. Kudos to Paul Hardt for the great casting and, also, to Rob Ruggiero for his direction that makes you care about all the characters- even crusty Jack, played smartly by Mitch Greenberg- as we follow them through their triumphs and setbacks, loves and losses.

(l to r) Sean McLaughlin, Samantha Massel, Christian Michael Camporin

The only misstep I found was the unnecessary montage at the end that tried to convey we- or our ancestors- were once all immigrants here in America. It was earnest but not needed as the story itself made the point well. That’s a minor grievance.

While ‘Rags’ is an emotional roller coaster, it’s one you will want to ride on! The story is a winner; the best show of their season and worthy of a return to Broadway.

You won’t mind that it pulls at your heartstrings and, given it’s Halloween, I’ll add it’s no trick- it’s a real treat.

I give Goodspeed’s ‘Rags’ 4-and-a-half stars out of 5. It runs through December 10th. For tickets or more info, visit Goodspeed-dot-org.

Make the drive to East Haddam- see the fall foliage and see ‘Rags!’

Next week, with the holidays approaching, I revisit My Guide to Family shows on Broadway. I’ll tell you the shows to see with the kids- or grandkids- and two shows to avoid!

Catch my reviews right here this time each week and on my Facebook page and website, Katz Reviews dot com, where you will find all my WICC 600 reviews.

This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”