Monday, June 3, 2013
Beautiful Soup Theater Company Ladles Out A Superlative "RAGS!!!!!!!!!!!"
Erin Elizabeth Eichhorn is currently filling shoes once occupied by Judy Kuhn and Crista Moore. The happy surprise is they fit her superbly.
Midway through the first act of this theater company's presentation of the Charles Strouse-Stephen Schwartz musical, "RAGS," Eicchorn's character, Bella Cohen, has had it. She has had it with being closeted indoors by her father, Avram, who treats her like a vassal still attached to the old country, she hates the shifty Americans who attack her for her Jewishness; like all young folk whose expectations are slighted, she is frustrated, and she confronts her father, head on. Many in the audience--and I am certainly one--can empathize with Bella, and channel her feelings. And these feelings explode, when the music begins, and Miss Eicchorn starts to sing "RAGS," arguably one of the most driving, compelling and dramatic title songs created for any musical show. She mimes every bit of anguish out of Bella, with her heart stopping rendition, (and this is not an easy song to sing!) so much so, that, good as the rest of the show's score is, nothing ever tops this moment!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like another cult classic of the Eighties, "Merrily We Roll Along," "RAGS" is a show that you can see several different times, and it will never be the same. When the American Jewish Theatre staged it in 1991, (where Crista Moore did Bella) this title song ended Act One of that production!
It was a daring move! And powerful! Here, they seem to have gone back to the original, though, if I remember correctly, the child David is the one who is attacked, and the curtain came down on Rebecca (played in 1986 by Teresa Stratas) holding David (Josh Blake) in her arms, Pieta style, while reprising "Children Of The Wind." I wish this production had kept that.
Nevertheless, those who have never seen the show, but have wondered about it, and Theater Queens who know it intimately, embracing it outright, for its lush, rich, and haunting score, (which gets it produced) I urge to get down to The Connelly Theatre on East 4th Street, to see what all the fuss about "RAGS" has been about, and continues to be.
Miss Eichhorn is luminous as Bella, whose character seems to be more fleshed out. More time seems to be spent on the boat trip to America, then I recall in previous stagings, and there is a lovely song, "If We Never Meet Again," sung both by Rebecca and Bella, which I do not recall ever hearing before. I don't recall, from past productions, seeing Bella attacked openly in the streets, both shortly after she arrives, and during the staging of "Rags." Both "Children Of The Wind" and "Greenhorns" seem to have been placed differently in this presentation, and it works
So does the fact that the production is staged simply, on a proscenium, with slide projections, up center, leaving the actors, and score to tell the story. And with a minimum of sets and props.
The director, Steven Carl McCasland, clearly admires the show, understands it, and mimes it for its assets.
"RAGS" is full of so many great moments. When Anna Kirkland, as Rebecca, and Kenneth Kyle Martinez, as union organizer Saul, perform the haunting duet, "Wanting," it becomes another memorable moment from this show, made more so by the passion of its performers.
Everyone in this show is long on passion, but some lack vocal power.
Not Miss Eichhorn, or Barnaby Edwards, playing Bella's love interest, Ben, who I swear, in look and voice, is channeling Lonny Price, who played Ben in the 1986 original. See for yourselves, if you don't believe me.
Anna Kirkland superbly acts Rebecca, and sings her well for the most part. It is a killer role, and she deserves plaudits. But I wish more work had been done on strengthening her voice, for there are moments she has ("Look, David!!!!!!! Learn, David!!!!!!!!!! Now, it belongs to you!!!!!!!") that have to soar from the sustaining power of her ability to hold these notes. But Miss Kirkland lacks this, or needs more work. She does not undermine the role by any means, but she does not mime it to the max, the way Miss Eichhorn and Mr. Martinez do. And this extends too, to young Jeremiah Burch III, an otherwise superb David!!!!!!!!!!!
It has been twenty two years since I have gone near "RAGS," and the minute I heard those haunting opening notes, tears began streaming down my face, and did not stop till the final note was sung. The show still has the sustaining power to move one, and I was not the only one, by any means, overwhelmed by the performance.
What is oft regarded as a theatrical curriosity has been revived in the most innocuous of places. Imagine if "RAGS" had a more full scaled presentation, and why the Hell hasn't ENCORES done it???????? Meanwhile, the Beautiful Soup Company is to be commended to be introducing to some, while inducing memories in others, the pleasures of a neglected theatrical masterpiece!!!!!!!!!!!!!