Rags – with members of the Original Broadway Cast 1986
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 (Julia Migenes), fleeing a pogrom that destroyed her village, has come with her young son, David (Josh Blake), in hopes of being reunited with her husband, Nathan (Larry Kert). Nathan has been in America for several years but has not yet sent for them. Avram Cohen (Dick Latessa) and his teenage daughter, Bella (Judy Kuhn), have come in search of a better life. And Ben Levitowitz (Lonny Price), 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 – I Remember/Greenhorns. Rebecca is not met by her husband, so she and David are given temporary shelter by Avram and Bella. Frightened and exhausted their first night in the new world, they are nonetheless dazzled by the wonderful sights around them – Brand New World. 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 – Children Of The Wind. 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 labor are leavened by the music of an itinerant Klezmer band – Penny A Tune. Saul (Terrence Mann), a fiery labor organizer, is trying to unionize 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 – Easy For You. And one night, after an exhilarating outing to see a performance of Hamlet at the Yiddish theater (Hard To Be A Prince), Rebecca finds to her distress that she is falling in love with Saul – Blame It On The Summer Night. 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 (For My Mary), she hurls her feelings of frustration at her father and runs off to gaze longingly at the high life of the uptown swells – Rags. 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 – What’s Wrong With That? When he hears Rebecca and David are here 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 – Nothing Will Hurt Us Again. As Act II begins, the family celebrates their reunion at The Cherry Street Café where Nathan, ever the politician, works the room – Yankee Boy. But privately, he reveals to Rebecca his contempt for immigrants like themselves and his determination to assimilate – Uptown. And, although Rebecca tells Saul she can never see him again, their feelings for one another remain strong – Wanting. Romance is also on the mind of Avram, who has become the choice of Rachel, a widow (Marcia Lewis), with strong opinions and an empty apartment – Three Sunny Rooms. And Bella still has her hopes set on Ben who, with David’s help, is becoming successful with a gimmick to sell gramophones – The Sound Of Love. And then tragedy strikes: Bella is killed in a sweatshop fire. Rebecca is devastated (Kaddish) . . . and radicalized. She leads a strike against sweatshop conditions – Bread And Freedom. 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 – Dancing With The Fools. They have endured hardship, heart-break, 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 – Finale.
Rebecca Hershkowitz: Julia Migenes David (her ten-year-old son): Josh Blake Nathan Hershkowitz (Harris) (her husband): Larry Kert Saul (a radical union organizer): Terrence Mann Bella Cohen (a seventeen-year-old immigrant/Rebecca’s friend): Judy Kuhn Avram (Bella’s father): Dick Latessa Ben Levitowitz (a young immigrant in love with Bella): Lonny Price Rachel (a plump widow with her eye on Avram): Marcia Lewis Homesick Immigrant: Andy Gale Cynical Americans: Michael Cone & Michael Davis K1ezmer Leader: Mark Fotopoulos Rosa (a co-worker in Rebecca’s sweatshop): Audrey Lavine A Yiddish Hamlet: Peter Samuel Irish Tenor (on the Gramophone): Michael Cone “Big Tim” Sullivan: Michael Davis Frankie: Michael Cone Mike: Mark Fotopoulos Sophie Tucker: Wendy Kimball Morris: Devon Michaels Morris’s Mother: Cissy Rebich Immigrants, Ellis Island, Guards, Cynical Americans, Klezmer Musicians, Yiddish Theater Actors, Workers, Neighbors, Shoppers & Strikers: John Aller, Michael Cone, Michael Davis, Mark Fotopoulos, Andy Gale, Joanna Glushak, Wendy Kimball, Audrey Lavine, Devon Michaels, Cissy Rebich, Peter Samuel Additional Ensemble for this Recording: Marian Hampton, Karen La Wilder, P.J. Nelson, Craig Pomranz, Lee Winston