Album Review: Rags – The Musical: Original London Cast Recording

The Original London Cast Recording for Rags – The Musical is released by Ghostlight Records, the first to capture the many changes to the show

“What if we never meet again?”

Sometimes a musical just doesn’t grab you, and so it was for me with Rags The Musical. The show received its UK premiere at the Northern powerhouse that is the Hope Mill Theatre in February 2019 and transferred to the Park Theatre in London at the beginning of 2020 and despite its excellent notices, I just didn’t fancy it. The universe clearly wants me to hear it one way or another though, as Ghostlight Records are now releasing an official London cast recording, the first for this show since 1991.

I think my ambivalence might have stemmed from a lack of love for Fiddler on the Roof (I know…). And Rags was initially conceived in 1986 as a sequel of sorts by book-writer Joseph Stein, as he explores the experience of a group of Jewish immigrants as they arrive in the US. Over the years though, David Thompson has considerably revised it and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics and Charles Strouse’s music have also been substantially tinkered with. Musicals are ever a work in progress but such overhauling doesn’t always inspire the greatest confidence – credit then to director Bronagh Lagan and musical director Joe Bunker for refining this material in such a stylish manner.

The recording has been executive-produced by Schwartz which inevitably sets the bar high, but the quality of the record also stems from the bright talents engineering it. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe and Nikki Davison at Auburn Jam Music, with Nick Barstow as music producer and Joe Bunker as musical director, there’s a fresh sprightliness to so much of the music that is hard to resist. Just listen to how the swaggering brass of ‘Meet an Italian’ practically springs out of the speakers, so too the sinuous charms of ‘Blame It on the Summer Night’.

And of course it helps to have a strong company delivering the songs, which dip appropriately into influences of klezmer, jazz, and ragtime to reflect the melting pot of turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Straight up musical theatre balladry is also represented perhaps a little too much. Rachel Izen’s ‘Three Sunny Rooms’ is queerly funny, I love the chirpiness of ‘Yankee Boy’ led by Oisin Nolan-Power, and Carolyn Maitland and Alex Gibson-Giorgio combine to beautiful effect on the soaring ‘Wanting’, my standout track on the album.

By contrast, Maitland’s big 11 o’clock number ’Children of the Wind’ just isn’t that exciting, despite her best vocal efforts (indeed across the whole show), far less interesting than so many of the songs that precede it. But make no mistake, this is an impeccably produced and performed record that should intrigue many a musical theatre fan. 

Photo: Pamela Raith 

Rags is available digitally from Ghostlight Records now:
click here for your platform of choice.
A physical release is scheduled for later in the year.

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