RAGS

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre are never ones to shy away from a challenge; turning a former cotton mill into an award-winning producing house a clear testament to their drive and determination; so it comes as no surprise that not only have they taken on the challenge of reimaging lesser known musical RAGS but have the added coup of legendary Broadway composer Stephen Schartz’s invaluable presence in the rehearsal rooms.

With a book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler On The Roof) music by Charles Strouse (Annie) and lyrics from Stephen Schwarz (Wicked) RAGS seems like it should have always been a hit yet the success never quite came. This UK premiere of a new version with a revised book by David Thompson directed by Hope Mill regular Bronagh Lagan sets about altering the destiny of RAGS and ensuring this relatively unknown musical is given the platform it deserves.

The joyful wit and melodic dialogue of Joseph Stein remain however David Thompson’s revisions allow the story to be told anew as we follow Jewish immigrant Rebecca (Rebecca Trehearn) as she bids to find a new life and a secure future for her and son David (Lochlan White) in America. Their penniless arrival at Ellis Island looks set to dictate their fate until kind-hearted Bella (Lydia White) whom Rebecca strikes up a friendship with on the journey convinces her father Avram (Michael S. Siegel) to vouch for the desperate pair. Rebecca and David are given a place to stay and her skills as a seamstress soon secure her employment however she is never far from rough seas as although the American dream may seem within reach it certainly won’t be without sacrifice leading to a battle of identity amidst a struggle of cultural assimilation.

The subject matter may sound heavy but it is treated with such love and warmth that light and dark marry beautifully with comedic and heart-warming moments shining through the emotional and poignant.

Rebecca Trehearn is pure star quality; she captures the gut-wrenching anguish of Rebecca with perfection and her determination to succeed in this hostile new world is profoundly moving. Her vocals are pitch perfect throughout while her stunning rendition of Children Of The Wind would melt the coldest of hearts, to see it delivered in such an intimate setting as Hope Mill is breath-taking.

Lydia White is superbly cast as Bella, her friendship with Rebecca feels believable and pure while her thrill at the prospect of the new life within her grasp is inspiring. Sam Peggs plays Bella’s love interest Ben with an innocent joy while Robert Tripolino as Italian trade unionist Sal makes for a wonderfully dramatic and entirely committed champion of both workers and human rights.

Heartening comedy is injected by the pairing of savvy widow Rachel (Valda Aviks) and Bella’s world-weary father Avram (Michael S. Siegel) the duo making for a wonderful comic double act. Special mention must also go to Lochlan White who at this evening’s performance played Rebecca’s son David, confident and charismatic as the young Jewish boy.

This is a real ensemble piece with praise being deserved by each and every member of the cast who bring this story to vibrant life with their stunning vocals and heartfelt performances, several doubling up as on stage musicians. Stephen Schwartz’s soaring score offers a real feast of fusion, in effect a melting pot of styles just like New York City both then and now.

Gregor Donnelly’s suitcase stacked set design and Derek Anderson’s atmospheric lighting combine perfectly to further bring this emotional story to life.

RAGS is beautifully executed theatre which will sweep you away with its gritty and poignant storytelling. The themes feel current and entirely relatable, the cast could easily be singing Make America Great Again rather than Take Our Country Back as the characters battle for acceptance and a sense of belonging in a hostile and at times cruel new world.  The team have got this new version just right with the talented cast doing total justice to the cleverly crafted piece. Important and affecting theatre delivered with genuine heart.

RAGS is on at Hope Mill Theatre until Saturday 6th April tickets available here.

 

 

Stephen Schwartz Q&A at Hope Mill Theatre

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment and Joseph Houston and William Whelton of Hope Mill Theatre today announce An Evening With Stephen Schwartz, which will take place in Manchester on Sunday 17th February.

A drinks and finger buffet will begin at 6pm followed by a showcase of the multi-award winning lyricist and composer’s best loved works as well as Schwartz’s first ever UK panel discussion about his life and his work.

With a back catalogue which includes the critically acclaimed shows Wicked, Pippin and Godspell as well as contributing to the lyrics for the films Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame as well as songs from The Prince of Egypt this will be a night not to be missed!

All proceeds from ticket sales will go towards Hope Aria’s 2019 season which opens with Schwartz’s RAGS from 2nd March until 6th April.

Tickets for the Hope Mill Theatre event which include a drinks reception and buffet are priced at £45 and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

Pippin

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First premiered on Broadway an incredible 45 years ago, Katy Lipson, Guy James and Hope Mill Theatre’s revival of Tony award winning Pippin shows no signs of age and is as magical and enchanting as we hoped it would be.

With music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz and book by Roger O. Hirson, Pippin tells the tale of a young man in search of something to believe in, a path to follow, ultimately, he is in search of himself. Loosely based on ‘Pepin’ the son of 8th Century King Charlemange, Pippin sets about trying out life and all it has to offer via different careers and different directions in order to find his corner of the sky. Maeve Black’s stunning Victorian Vaudeville setting paired with stunning lighting design from Aaron J. Dootson allows the players to truly tell this tale in the most theatrical and immersive of ways, making Pippin a remarkably bold and striking production.

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Pippin’s search and the different paths it leads him down illustrates clearly that with all its craziness and drama the world is indeed a stage, as the players perform and indulge Pippin his desires, we realise everything we see is an act. Leading player Genevieve Nicole is a wholly commanding presence, she steers and controls her fellow players who perform beautifully on her instruction, she shines in the role and bursts with sass and dangerous charisma as she steers Pippin through his search for fulfilment.

Jonathan Carlton is brilliantly cast as Pippin, he perfectly portrays the young Prince’s naivety and frustrations, the development in his character is wonderful to see as each experience leaves its mark and changes his outlook on life. Carlton’s delivery of Corner Of The Sky is especially beautiful, full of emotion and wonderfully displays the hopelesness he feels with his inability to fit in and understand his path in life.

The whole ensemble are superb, hardworking and utterly captivating. Director Jonathan O’Boyle has created a tight and incredibly slick team who are entirely in sync with each other. William Whelton’s choreography is sharp and precise and really adds to the beauty of this special piece while musical director Zach Flis delivers the sublime score to perfection.

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High praise must also go to Mari Barclay who plays both Fastrada and Berthe, her characterisation is exceptional, with brilliant comic timing and larger than life delivery she excels in both roles and also as a member of the superb ensemble.

The quality and delivery of Pippin is top class, the pairing of Katy Lipson and Hope Mill Theatre is a true gift to Manchester. Engaging, captivating and entirely magical, Pippin convincingly worked its magic and enchanted completely. A real gem of a show delivered with real style and sass.

On at Hope Mill Theatre until 23rd September tickets£20, concessions £18 available via the following link http://www.hopemilltheatre.co.uk/whats-on/

Pippin