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Rags - the Musical

All about the musical Rags with music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Stephen Schwartz

Overview of the Musical Rags

Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Music by Charles Strouse, Book by Joseph Stein

The musical Rags features historically and emotionally rich material, both in the story and in the score. Rags has been fairly well received regionally even though it flopped on Broadway in 1986. It opened August 21, 1986 - Mark Hellinger Theatre, after many previews, and closed after 4 performances. Schwartz, Stein, and Strouse have revised the show many times since the Broadway opening.

Excerpt from Claudia Perry's review of RAGS in Philadelphia, published on aislesay.com. "The score is as lovely and diverse as an antique patchwork quilt-for the composer has drawn from an eclectic palate of Jewish Klezmer sounds, Ragtime, Tin Pan Alley and Musical Comedy. There are songs from this show that have been floating around for years, such as "Wanting", "Blame It on the Summer Night" and "Children of the Wind" But music constitutes only one half of a theatre song and to Mr. Schwartz's credit, his lyrics are always clear and compelling; funny and charming when needed and dramatically touching where called for."

Rags RecordingsCompact Disk icon

Music CDs

Rags Original Cast Album

cover for Rags(Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, Music by Charles Strouse) Original Broadway Cast, Sony Broadway, 1991. Buy Rags [new browser window]
  • Includes: Overture, I Remember/Greenhorns, Brand New World, Children Of The Wind, Penny A Tune, Easy For You, Hard To Be A Prince, Blame It On The Summer Night, For My Mary, Rags, What's Wrong With That?, Nothing Will Hurt Us Again, Extra'acte, Cherry Street Café, Yankee Boy, Uptown, Wanting, Three Sunny Rooms, The Sound Of Love, Kaddish, Bread And Freedom/Dancing With The Fools, Finale

Rags features the vocal talent of Julia Migenes, Judy Kuhn, Terrence Mann, Dick Latessa, Lonny Price, and others.

Songs from Rags the Musical

"Blame It On the Summer Night"

"If We Never Meet Again" (Cut from the show)

Duets cover

Video

film icon See the Tony Awards presentation of "Rags" from Rags Judy Kuhn and Dick Latessa perform. Air date 6/7/1987
Rags
For research purposes one may view the Broadway video at the New York City Public Library Center for the Performing Arts. (Performers as well as scholars may have access to the video.)

Sheet Music for Rags: Songbook and Downloadable Versions

RagsRags: Vocal Selections - Print Version Piano, Voice, Guitar

This Rags Piano-vocal-guitar sheet music book contains 10 songs including

Blame It on the Summer Night + Brand New World + Children of the Wind + Dancing with the Fools + For My Mary + Penny a Tune + Rags + Three Sunny Rooms + Wanting + Yankee Boy. (Hal Leonard Corporation)

Children of the Wind - sheet music digital download (four versions)

"Blame It On A Summer Night" - sheet music digital download

"Brand New World" - sheet music digital download

"Penny A Tune" - sheet music digital download

"Rags" - (the song called "Rags") - sheet music digital download

"Wanting" - sheet music digital download

"For My Mary" - sheet music digital download

For "Blame it On a Summer Night" use the Stephen Schwartz Songbook.

Book Chronicles Rags Development Story

Defying GravityFind comments from Stephen Schwartz, Joseph Stein, Charles Strouse, and others in the new Stephen Schwartz biography that includes the challenging development of Rags and its short run on Broadway. You'll read about Schwartz's historical research, his collaboration with Strouse in his first Broawday effort as lyricist only, and his dashed dreams. The creative team's commentary drawn from the author's original interviews makes this book essential background material for any Rags enthusiast. The book features over 200 photographs and illustrations from Schwartz's career, from Godspell to Wicked.

Read more about the Stephen Schwartz biography Defying Gravity at www.defyinggravitythebook.com

Licensing Rags for performance

Rags musical licensing: Rogers and Hammerstein Library Rnh.com - RAGS the musical page

Misc Notes

Stephen Schwartz Q and A about Rags

See the archives RAGS section of the Stephen Schwartz site for specific Questions and Answers. www.stephenschwartz.com Forum Archives. Schwartz comments on the show's development, the research he did to write the show, and other topics.

Rags Cast

Cast: 9 men, 8 women, 1 boy, chorus

Rebecca Hershkowitz
David - her ten year old son
Nathan Hershkowitz (Harris) - her husband
Saul - a radical union organiser
Bella Cohen - a 17 year old immigrant, Rebecca's friend
Avram - Bella's father
Ben Levitowitz - a young immigrant in love with Bella
Rachel - a plump widow with her eye on Avram
Rosa - a co-worker in Rebecca's sweatshop
Tammany Politicians: "Big Tim" Sullivan, Frankie and Mike
Sophie Tucker
Morris
Morris's mother

SONGS

OVERTURE - Orchestra
I REMEMBER/GREENHORNS - Homesick Immigrant, Guards, New Immigrants, Cynical Americans, Rebecca & Recruiter
BRAND NEW WORLD - Rebecca & David
CHILDREN OF THE WIND - Rebecca
PENNY A TUNE - Klezmer Musicians, Rachel, Sweatshop Workers, Rebecca, Rosa, Bella, Ben & David
EASY FOR YOU - Rebecca, Saul & David
HARD TO BE A PRINCE - David, Yiddish Theatre Hamlet & Other Actors
BLAME IT ON THE SUMMER NIGHT - Rebecca
FOR MY MARY - Ben & Irish Tenor
RAGS - Avram & Bella
WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT? - "Big Tim" Sullivan, Frankie, Nathan & Mike
NOTHING WILL HURT US AGAIN - Rebecca, David & Nathan
ENTR'ACTE - Orchestra
CHERRY STREET CAFE - Sophie Tucker
YANKEE BOY - Nathan, David & Neighbours
UPTOWN - Nathan & Rebecca
WANTING - Rebecca & Saul
THREE SUNNY ROOMS - Rachel & Avram
THE SOUND OF LOVE - David, Ben, Morris's Mother, Morris & Shoppers
KADDISH - David, Rebecca, Avram & Men
BREAD AND FREEDOM/ DANCING WITH THE FOOLS -
Rosa, Rebecca, Strikers & Nathan
FINALE - David, Rebecca, Cynical Americans & New Immigrants

Don't miss the Walnut Street Theatre page with Rags synopsis and article Rags Revisited: a richly relevant musical tribute. Includes comments by lyricist Stephen Schwartz, composer Charles Strouse, and book writer Joseph Stein

Carol de Giere's interview with Stephen Schwartz regarding several RAGS songs.

The book Our Musicals, Ourselves, published in 2003, includes a valuable section on RAGS with information from an interview the author conducted with bookwriter Joseph Stein. Our Musicals, Ourselves: A Social...

Music Notes - Somewhere I found this list of keys:

Brand New World(G min/A flat), Penny a Tune(D min/G min), Children of the Wind(Show Version)(G/E flat), Wanting(A min/A), Blame It On The Summer Night(A min), Dancing with the Fools(F min/F sharp min), For My Mary(F), Rags(E flat/B flat), Three Sunny Rooms(G min/F), Yankee Boy(E flat/E), and Children Of The Wind(Standard Version)(G/E flat).

Synopsis Summary of Rags the Musical

Stephen Schwartz's comments on cast album

THE STORY

It is 1910, the height of the great wave of immigration flooding into America from Eastern Europe.

Five Jewish immigrants come over in steerage on the same boat: Rebecca Hershkowitz, fleeing a pogrom that destroyed her village, has come with her young son, David in hopes of being reunited with her husband, Nathan. Nathan has been in America for several years but has not yet sent for them. Avram Cohen and his teenage daughter, Bella, have come in search of a better life. And Ben Levitowitz, a brash young man who has fallen in love with Bella, has come to make his fortune in a land where the streets are said to be paved with gold.

They are processed at Ellis Island along with hordes of others. Rebecca is not met by her husband, so she and David are given temporary shelter by Avram and Bella. Frightened and exhausted on their first night in the new world, they are nonetheless dazzled by the wonderful sights around them.

Rebecca's search for Nathan seems hopeless, but when she is most discouraged, she remembers all she and David have gone through to get to America.

The five immigrants go to work: Rebecca in a sweatshop, Bella doing piecework at home, Ben in a cigar factory, and Avram and David peddling from a pushcart. Their long hours and backbreaking labour are leavened by the music of an itinerant Klezmer band.

Saul, a fiery labour organiser, is trying to unionise the shop where Rebecca works. He and Rebecca don't see eye-to-eye about "making trouble;" but he does persuade her to educate herself and David. One night, after an exhilarating outing to see a performance of Hamlet at the Yiddish theatre, Rebecca finds to her distress that she is falling in love with Saul.

In the meantime, Bella is becoming bitterly disillusioned with the drabness of her life in America. Although she is momentarily diverted when Ben brings her a new gramophone, she hurls her feelings of frustration at her father and runs off to gaze longingly at the high life of the uptown swells.

Meanwhile, at a local Irish pub, a meeting of Tammany politicians is underway. And who should be among them but Rebecca's husband, Nathan. He has renamed himself Nat Harris and is working his way up in local politics, doing dirty work for the corrupt Democratic machine. When he hears Rebecca and David are in America, he hurries off to look for them.

Rebecca and Saul are spending more and more time together. But when David puts Saul's fighting ideas into practice with a gang of local hoodlums, he winds up getting badly beaten up. Rebecca sees this as repeating the danger and violence they had come to America to escape. She breaks with Saul. And just as she does, Nathan arrives.

As Act Two begins, the family celebrates their reunion at the Cherry Street Café where Nathan, ever the politician, works the room. But privately, he reveals to Rebecca his contempt for immigrants like themselves and his determination to assimilate. Although Rebecca tells Saul she can never see him again, their feelings for one another remain strong.

Romance is also on the mind of Avram, who has become the choice of Rachel, a widow with strong opinions and an empty apartment. Bella still has her hopes set on Ben who, with David's help, is becoming successful with a gimmick to sell gramophones.

Then tragedy strikes: Bella is killed in a sweatshop fire. Rebecca is devastated ... and radicalised. She leads a strike against sweatshop conditions. And she defies Nathan, who fears his wife's radicalism will endanger his political career. Nathan leaves her, and Rebecca remains with Saul and the strikers.

They have endured hardship, heartbreak, wrenching change, and the fairest of them has perished, but in the end Rebecca, David, Avram, and Ben have begun to make a new life in their new world ... as another boatload of immigrants arrives.

Rags Soundtrack, Original Broadway Cast, 1991, Sony Broadway

Review by Nathan of Australia

Rags is one of my favourite recordings, its one of those frustrating flops. It has some of the most amazingly beautiful music (Strouse) and stunning lyrics (Schwartz) I have ever heard. Unfortunately it is not made with all of the original cast, but with Julia Migenes as Rebecca and then augmented with some members of the original cast and others. The recording is still amazing.

Julia gives a stunning rendition of Rebecca (although her operatic voice does take a while to get used to, but the sole of the music overrides this). Her "Dancing with the fools' is nothing short of breath taking. Her men Nathan (Larry Kert) and Saul (Terrence Mann) also put in fantastic results. With 'wanting' and 'Yankee Boy' among my favourites of the Cd. However the CD's show stealer is Judy Kuhn as Bella...all I can say is track 10-Rags. This song is nothing short of brilliant, and Judy adds so much to the character making this song my favourite among a Cd of favourites.

Other great performances come from, Dick Latessa as Avram (Bellas father) and Marcia Lewis as his love interest Rachel, along with Josh Blake as 10 y/o David Lonny Price, Audrey Lavine, Michael Davis and a brilliant supporting cast. I cannot express my delight of this musical. There isn't one song I skip when listening. If you don't own it go and buy it. It has some of Stephen Schwartz' best lyrics (his favourites) and Charles Strouse' music will blow you away.

Stephen Schwartz

Read more about the Schwartz/Stein collaboration for The Baker's Wife and Rags. Joseph Stein / Stephen Schwartz

Read more about Stephen Schwartz on this site Stephen Schwartz