Hi Rebecca, tell us what our readers can expect from Rags the Musical!
In a nutshell, Rags tells the classic American immigrant story. We follow a group of Russian immigrants fleeing pogroms in their native country to the US at the turn of the 20th century. Some of them have been there for a couple of years and in the case of my character Rebecca, a skilled seamstress and her son, they’re fresh off the boat.
We follow their trials and tribulations as they try to make their way in the world, but we also deal with all the discrimination they face as new immigrants in a strange land.
With many of the older Jewish community sharing Rebecca’s ethnic background, do you feel the theme of cultural assimilation will be relatable?
Like many at the time, our characters are being attacked and taken advantage of left, right and centre. We deal with their issues of being at odds between the old and the new – trying to retain their old traditions while figuring out where they belong in this new country.
I hope there will be plenty of audience members who will recognise this story and see their own family history in it.
Are you looking forward to your first time performing at Hope Mill Theatre?
I’m really excited to work there and what I love about the space is that it’s very flexible. With all the production shots I’ve seen from different performances, you’d barely know it was the same theatre!
I’ve worked in quite a few intimate venues on this scale and it’s always lovely to be up close and personal with the audience. It means you can approach things in a more naturalistic way and I think the audience feels involved in the piece in a way they may not necessarily feel when they’re at the back of the upper circle of one of the larger theatres.
The building used to be a working mill and considering our characters are working in the rag trade, it couldn’t be more fitting.
What excites you most about the role?
In some ways Rebecca is very traditional. She’s quite uneducated and if we were going to be literal, she would be coming over to New York with barely a word of English, but that’s obviously not very practical in terms of telling your story!
But at the same time, she’s very forward thinking. Because she’s solely responsible for her young son, she has to take the bull by the horns and really get out there. She’s extremely ambitious professionally, which was unusual at the time and she quickly makes her mark and is unafraid to stand up to her employer. It’s these contradictions within her that make her a fascinating character to work with.
How has the script evolved over the course of the production?
There have been so many versions of Rags – its writer, Joseph Stein who was famous for Fiddler on the Roof, has passed on since the original production appeared – but we’re working with a script that in some ways has never been seen before.
Stephen Schwartz, who was the original lyricist for the show, will be with us writing some of the music. It’s still in flux – we’re getting line tweaks here and there and new songs, even now, so it’s really exciting to feel it’s a living, breathing show – giving us the chance to really make our mark with it.
Do you find the timing of the production significant in terms of recent immigration debates in the US?
Of course, an audience can’t help but draw those parallels. I’ve found it quite depressing in a way to be working on the piece and thinking to myself, that nothing has really changed.
The journey that our characters take on a boat to a new country is full of dangers and you read the papers and see that Syrian refugees are making even more dangerous trips and facing the same discrimination that our characters are facing. It’s heart-breaking to see so little has been learned and most ironic that certain quarters of a nation built on immigration can be so unwelcoming to others.
Rags the Musical runs from 2nd March to 6th April at Hope Mill Theatre. For tickets, visit Hopemilltheatre.co.uk.
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