'Rags' at Camelot Theatre

Immigrants aboard ships steaming past the Statue of Liberty towards Ellis Island in the early 1900s must have reflected on the lives they'd left behind and wondered at the strange new sights of New York City.

From Wednesday, June 23, through Sunday, July 25, Camelot Theatre Company will present "Rags," a musical drama written by Joseph Stein — who also wrote "Fiddler on the Roof" — with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Steve Schwartz. It's the story of two families from Russia who shoulder the new world determined to rise above poverty, unfair wages, anti-Semitism and various scoundrels.

"The score is gorgeous," says Camelot's Artistic Director Livia Genise. "It's got a huge range of music. There's ragtime, klezmer, jazz ... and the emotional content of the musical numbers holds humor, love and poignancy."

Genise appeared in "Rags" in 1989 at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif., where she won a Bay Area Critics Circle Award for best actress for her portrayal of Rebecca Hershkowitz, a young mother who comes to America to search for her husband and takes a job sewing in one of the sweatshops of the city's garment industry.

"Rags" premiered on Broadway in 1986 in the Mark Hellinger Theatre (later converted into the Times Square Church), and the show garnered Tony nominations for best musical, best book and best original score.

In the early '90s, the creators of "Rags" reunited to rewrite and create tighter versions of the musical. Revised productions ran at several theaters around the country with smaller casts and a score that was more impressionistic.

"We're doing one of the revised versions of 'Rags,' " says Genise. "But we opted for a larger cast, and our production will have all of the flavor of the original work."

Camelot's production keeps "Greenhorns," the song that moves Rebecca and her young son through the unfeeling immigration officials on Ellis Island. In "Brand New World," the immigrants marvel at the streets of the Lower East Side of Manhattan; "Children of The Wind" describes Rebecca's loneliness and her yearning to give her son a real home.

"The poignancy of these songs and others makes 'Rags' a powerful show," Genise says. "There's also a lot of humor throughout it, and the end is very uplifting."

Although their lives are challenged, the new immigrants remain upbeat with "Penny a Tune," and "Hard To Be a Prince" serves up hilarity when Rebecca attends "Hamlet" performed by a Jewish theater troupe. "Bread and Freedom" marks a climactic moment in the story when Rebecca leads the sweatshop workers in a strike protesting its unsafe conditions.

Key players in the Camelot production of "Rags" include Rose Passione as Rebecca, Lisa-Marie Werfel as David, Bob Jackson Miner as Avram, Jeremy Johnson as Saul, Kathleen Kellenbeck as Rachel, Michael Maisonneuve as Ben, Meghan McCandless as Bella and Mark Ropers as Nathan.

Choreography is by Rebecca K. Campbell and musical direction is by Karl Iverson. Set design is by Don Zastoupil, lighting by Bart Grady, sound by Brian O'Connor and costumes by Barbara Rains.

Tickets cost $19 to $21, $20 for a fundraising performance on June 23 for WinterSpring Center for Grief and $12 for the preview on Thursday, June 24. Student rush tickets cost $10. Reserved seating is available for an additional $2 per ticket.

541-535-5250 or visit www.camelottheatre.org

Share This Story