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“Charming revival of an uninspiring musical”

Rags first appeared on Broadway in 1986 but closed after only four performances. The writers have since had other musical successes (notably lyricist Stephen Schwartz with Wicked) and Rags has undergone many rewrites.

Unfortunately, Rags still lacks refinement and depth, though the production at Hope Mill is saved by assured vocal performances.

Set in 1910, Rags tells the story of a Jewish woman, Rebecca Hershkowitz (Rebecca Trehearn), who leaves Russia for America with few possessions but high hopes for a better life. The lighting design (by Derek Anderson) nicely reflects Rebecca’s changing outlook as she goes from feeling intimidated by New York’s bright lights to enjoying the soft pink sunset once settled.

Bronagh Lagan’s direction carefully delineates differences between characters and their situations. Rebecca’s pragmatic contractual negotiations with Bronfman (a commanding Gavin James) contrast with the youthful flirtation between Bella (Lydia White) and Ben (Sam Peggs), who manage to convey so much longing through eye contact alone.

Looming over the action throughout, piles of old suitcases stand tall like buildings across New York’s skyline. This backdrop seems to symbolise the influence of the immigrant population in forging America’s national identity.

But for all the musical’s potential topicality, themes such as cultural assimilation and workers’ rights are touched upon without being fully developed. Overburdening the plot lessens the impact of emotion and ideas.

With so much narrative clutter, the simplest moments are the most affecting. In Children of the Wind, a poignant solo about loss and hope, Trehearn’s voice is sublime.

Hope Mill Theatre: a Manchester musical powerhouse

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Production Details
Production nameRags
VenueHope Mill Theatre
StartsMarch 2, 2019
EndsApril 6, 2019
Running time2hrs 30mins
ComposerCharles Strouse
Book writerDavid Thompson, Joseph Stein
LyricistStephen Schwartz
DirectorBronagh Lagan
Musical directorNick Barstow
ChoreographerGrant Murphy
Set designerGregor Donnelly
Costume designerMaggie Harwood
Lighting designerDerek Anderson
Sound designerJames Nicholson
Casting directorJane Deitch
CastGavin James, Emma Fraser, George Varley, Hanna Khogali, James Dangerfield, James Hastings, Jane Quinn, Lochlan White, Lydia White, Michael S Siegel, Rebecca Trehearn, Robert Tripolino, Sam Peggs, Tim Walton, Valda Aviks
TechnicalPaul Gavin
Production managerAlice Longson
Stage managerRachel Graham, Sarah White, Zoe Pillar
ProducerAria, Hope Mill Theatre, Knockhardy Productions
VerdictRebecca Trehearn's vocals soar in a charming revival of an uninspiring musical about American immigration
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Natalie Douglas

Natalie Douglas

Natalie Douglas

Natalie Douglas

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