Rags The Musical – Ŵest End Charity Concert

Monday 28th April 2014
A charity gala in aid of the charity CENTREPOINT, the UK’s leading charity for homeless young people.


Coming to London’s West End for the first time ever, RAGS The Musical played for one night only in a special concert adaptation at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue.

RAGS The Musical opened on Broadway in 1986, receiving Tony Award nominations including Best Musical. With music written by Charles Strouse (Annie), lyrics by Stephen Schwartz (Wicked), and a book by Joseph Stein (Fiddler on the Roof), West End audiences will see – for the very first time – this beautiful and powerful musical on stage.

Telling the tale of a group of Jewish immigrants as they arrive to start a new life in America, RAGS The Musical is a story of love, loss and hope. Featuring a score celebrating the multicultural music which was filling the streets on New York in 1910, this concert version features all of the show’s major songs, including Children of the Wind, Wanting and Penny A Tune.

RAGS The Musical – In Concert was produced by Aria Entertainment and Knockhardy Productions, in aid of Centrepoint, whose previous West End charity concerts include Children of Eden at The Prince of Wales Theatre, and Cinderella Boom or Bust at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.

The cast included..

Rebecca – Caroline Sheen
Saul – Tim Rogers
Avram – Matt Zimmerman
Bella – Leila Benn Harris
Ben – James Yeoburn
Rachel – Jenny Logan
David – Sebastian Croft
Nathan – Graham MacDuff

Ensemble: Amelia Adams-Pearce, Shirley Jameson, Ben Stock, Marc Joseph, Danny Whitehead

Directed by Bronagh Lagan

Musical Direction by Caroline Humphris

Choreography by Grant Murphy




A fabulous band on stage. Crisply led by Caroline Humphris, the 11 musicians changed instruments at an extraordinary rate as they made up for the fact that the Rags score is intended for a total of 25 players.

Caroline Sheen as the resilient Rebecca showed a thrilling vocal range and an engaging presence.

There were fine performances too from Leila Benn Harris as Bella, trying to break from the stifling past her father Avram (Matt Zimmerman) clings to. She’s helped along by the husband-hunting widow Rachel, played with wit and charm by Jenny Logan.

The ensemble was boosted by young performers from ArtsEd who bring energy and zest to the big company numbers like “Bread and Freedom”, and the spine-tingling “Children of the Wind”.

Maureen Lipman as Narrator proved the icing on the cake. Who better to bring the necessary wry humour and warmth to Rags?

Centrepoint will rightly benefit from this one-off staging, but it would be satisfying to see such a promising production given a longer lease of life.


Rags in Concert was an absolute triumph, surprising and moving. Rather than a concert version, Lipson and Lagan took the adventurous decision to present an almost fully staged version of this neglected score. Costumes, choreography and a superb cast combined to make Rags an absolute treat for the eyes and ears.

The richness of the music, with its recurring Klezmer motifs and layered, complex score were beautifully brought to life in a performance that moved many, including myself to tears. If Caroline Sheen never gets to realise her role as Rebecca in a fully staged version, then musical theatre will be by far the poorer.

Rags is a score in the tradition of great musicals, its structure, its content and its form follow on, in a direct linear trajectory, from the Golden Age of musicals. But that line connects not just back to the Golden Age of musicals, but to drama, to Shakespeare, to Euripides. A musical is a part of that theatrical lineage, not removed from it.


Excellent traditional Jewish-inspired score of Charles Strouse to life whilst the actors performed the songs around them.

Maureen Lipman as one of Britain’s top Jewish actors, she was the perfect choice,

Given that the actors didn’t have the full dialogue to work with, they were remarkably efficient at presenting rounded characters, and hearing the orchestrated hits sung live proved a thrilling experience.

The wonderful Caroline Sheen was impressive in the lead role of Rebecca, capturing her odd combination of feistiness and insecurity as an outsider.

‘Children of the Wind’, left many a spine tingling and more than a few pairs of eyes misting over.

Graham MacDuff and Tim Rogers provided neat contrasts as the love rivals;

the dashing James Yeoburn dazzled us as Ben

Rags is an overlooked musical that has a gripping story and a great moral and social heart. It may be set a century ago, but its themes and very human stories are universal and timeless.

Rags the Musical in Concert was a flavour of what a full production of the show could offer the West End, and a reminder of the class of the music and the power of the story. Is it too much to hope for a revival soon, preferably with this cast?


Had this been the production that had opened at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on 21st August 1986, it would probably still be running.

The evening opened with the brilliant Caroline Humphris leading an eleven strong band

inventive, catchy songs and there is a surprising amount of (very good) staging from director Bronagh Lagan and choreographer Grant Murphy.

The excellent cast were “off-book” and fully costumed – if it wasn’t for the narration and the ‘Thriller’ set I would have thought it was a fully staged production – and a good one at that!

A wonderful evening.

Stand out performances came from Caroline Sheen as Rebecca, Tim Rogers as Saul, James Yeoburn as Ben and the hilarious Jenny Logan as Rachel.

The star of the evening (besides the band) was the young Sebastian Croft as David. I am sure we are going to see a lot of him in the future.

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