The Hope Mill Theatre’s critically-acclaimed production of RAGS The Musical is the heart-warming story of Jewish immigrants that start a new life in America.
Arriving straight to Ellis Island, this powerful musical tells the story of a young mother and her son as they search for new life. It’s a moving story of optimism, hope and determination. With a sublime score by Stephen Schwartz, it’s a musical that is now touching hearts in London after its successful opening in Manchester.
I spoke to Debbie Chazen, who plays Jewish immigrant Anna in the show. “She’s a typical older generation immigrant whose Jewish faith is very important to her,” Debbie said. “She has led quite a sheltered existence but she is a lovely warm-hearted character and I’ve tried to make her very friendly. She has a certain fear towards outsiders and I think most immigrants do, you never know what people think of you or what they might do to you.”
Debbie is Jewish herself and therefore this is a story that really resonates with her. “She is a lovely character to play and reminds me of my late auntie actually. My auntie was someone who fled Germany during the Holocaust along with my late mum, whereas my mum who was slightly younger to my auntie and has branched out a bit, my auntie certainly had that fear of outsiders and kept herself to herself a lot more,” she explained.
“It is my personal history really because my father’s late grandparents came over from Lithuania at about the same time Anna would have done, so it is sort of in my genetic wiring to know what these characters are about.”
Most of the Jewish immigrants that came over to New York ended up on the Lower East Side, became tailors and entered the sewing industry. “We follow the story of Rebecca whose husband has just died,” Debbie said. “She arrives on Ellis Island with her son with no money and no relatives to meet them. They just have to find the way to make it in the new world.”
Debbie expressed that she feels responsibility when telling this story because of her Jewish heritage. “It’s surprising how many people don’t know that this is the history of Jewish people,” she said.
“You have to educate people because it is still happening to all refugees and immigrants today. It certainly taught me that we are all the same and the story hasn’t change. We all feel a responsibility as a cast to tell that story so that the legacy of what happened – of people escaping all kinds of situations.
“We have to stand together and we have to support our fellow man. Wherever they come from and whatever their story, we are all people under the sun.”
In the current political climate, this story couldn’t feel more relevant. “I don’t think immigrants have ever really been welcomed with open arms,” Debbie said. “It is a very current story that I hope will change people and hopefully one day we won’t have to have this conversation.”
After transferring from the Hope Mill Theatre – an intimate northern venue. It is a show that fits perfectly into London’s The Park Theatre. The production features actor/musicians that brings the score to life in the most beautifully touching way.
“You really get to feel it more,” Debbie said. “You get to see the reaction of the audience more, you don’t have to make it too big and you really feel the emotion more. The actor/musicians are so talented. It’s just amazing and having live music on stage next to you every night is unbelievable. It is a really special production.”
Debbie hopes for people to come away from RAGS The Musical feeling uplifted and hopeful. “It is a story of courage and hope, I hope they leave with a sense of needing to change the world,” she said. “It is a fantastic message of accepting everybody, helping others and hope for the future.”
RAGS The Musical is on at the Park Theatre in London until the 8th of February, tickets and information can be found on their website.