It’s hard not to admire masters in their field who continue to mold and meld their craft. Lyricist Sheldon Harnick, 91, and Book writer Sherman Yellen, 83, are two such individuals who are keeping the proverbial coal in the fire. But (You had to know it was coming)…
York Theatre Company is currently staging a revised, scaled down version of their Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. The 1971 tuner took in a slew of Tony nominations and employed a sprawling cast of 40. The new version, Rothschild and Sons, is a much smaller version with only 11 in the mix. The story follows Mayer Rothschild (Robert Cuccioli) , a real life rags to riches mensch who shrewdly and wisely fights for social justice against the 1800s German government. His ultimate goal is to strip away with the Jewish ghettos. Rothschild and his five sons eventually create what would arguably become the world’s largest private fortune by means of banking.
Some stories naturally sing and if we were to look at Harnick’s other works, (She Loves Me, Fiorello!, and Fiddler on the Roof) which he composed with Jerry Bock, we would undeniably reach the conclusion that the songs are well placed, superbly written, and do an excellent job at moving their stories forward. Rothschilds and Sons, however, feels forced and as well intended as it is, it doesn’t ever seem to get off the ground. Mayer’s passion for passing the torch onto his children is noble and, like any family, there are a few squabbles. His wife, Gutele (Glory Crampton), sings of wanting little more than a single room and a simple life, Mayer provides some musical insight about the virtues of sons, and his offspring perform a song and dance routine about London. Aside from them, the only stand-out here is the beautiful and heartfelt song, “In My Own Lifetime”, performed near the end by Mayer. The lyrics are a plea to end oppression and world dischord. Even now, the song remains fresh, ageless and relevant.
There’s also a distinct lack of comic relief here too and while one wouldn’t imagine a show about the Jewish struggle to be filled with the yuks of a Carol Burnett comedy sketch, there should be a bit of levity in this two hour intermission less drama.
Some projects are worthy of revival but this piece will only appeal to true musical enthusiasts seeking a glimpse of theatre history. Harnick and Bock’s finer shows, She Loves Me and Fiddler On the Roof are coming back to the Great White way soon. Both are likely to provide a better return on investment.
Rothschilds and Sons is playing now through November 8th at the York Theatre company (619 Lexington Avenue at 53rd street). For tickets and information, visit: York Theatre Company