By: Sandi Durell
The current production of Rothschild & Sons, at the York Theatre Company at St. Peter’s, has been reworked by its lyricist Sheldon Harnick (now 91) and book writer, Sherman Yellen, in a reimagined one-act production of one hour, 45minutes (no intermission). The original production (1970), that garnered nine Tony nominations, was the last collaboration between Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick with a rollicking cast of 40+ now dwindled to 11 (many who play several roles).
It’s the story of a close knit Jewish family living in the ghetto of Frankfurt, Germany as they fight for human rights, exploring the intricate relationships that develop between the patriarch Mayer Rothschild, brilliantly and powerfully played by Robert Cuccioli (who, in a former off Broadway incarnation in 1990, played the role of the middle son Nathan), his wife and family anchor Gutele, lovingly and firmly played by Glory Crampton (who knows how to use her well-nuanced voice) and their five sons. This incarnation especially highlights Mayer’s relationship with his sons and the chutzpa necessary to survive in a world where Jews were locked up in their homes at the end of the day feeling the weight of anti-Semitism.
Instead of groveling (although there was lots of that to the chants of “do your duty”), Mayer (wishing for and getting five sons), teaches them the art and the power of money (one coin at a time), business and manipulation, making his way into the inner world of Prince William of Hesse – whom they call Serenity – (a finely cast and witty Mark Pinter – also as the wicked Prince Metternich). Mayer subtly ingratiates himself by selling/giving the Prince treasured rare coins, and then wangling his way into the court as a banker, all the while training his sons to follow suit. Mayer’s potent and clever mind never rests.
The Rothschild boys are a study in personality differences, all with a common goal – to free themselves and all Jews from the tyranny around them, eventually securing a declaration of rights for European Jews, cleverly leveraged by Mayer, Jacob and brothers against Prince Metternich when the House of Rothschild becomes the most powerful banking family in Europe and each, eventually, granted the title of Baron.
The sons – Amshel, the trusted eldest, is played by Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper; Salomon (Jamie LaVerdiere) is wise, but not bombastic like his brother Nathan, the middle son played by Christopher M. Williams, who is the rogue and risk-taker, frequently clashing with his father; Jacob (David Bryant Johnson) is the bon vivant, the moneyman good with numbers; and the youngest Kalmann (Curtis Wiley) is the most affectionate and sweetest of the bunch.
Throughout, we hear the Town Crier’s chant “Return to Your Homes” as Peter Cormican bellows from the rear of the theater. The penetrating lyrics of “Everything” release the frustration of the boys who want more, while their mother has her everything – – her family. As the sons are sent off to various parts of Europe to ply their trade as bankers, Crampton sings a poignant (newly added) “Just a Map” tracing their whereabouts.
A stern Cuccioli exudes glints of humor in the upbeat “Rothschild and Sons” (with choreography by Denis Jones) and pulls on heart-strings as his beautiful baritone soars with “In My Own Lifetime.”
The cast is rounded out by Jonathan Hadley and Christine LaDuca with Jeffrey Klitz leading a four piece band.
Jeffrey B. Moss guides the production trying to infuse as much life as he can. The well-appropriated 17th Century costumes are from Carrie Robbin and the efficient set design, with rear opening wall, allows for easy change of locations (James Morgan set design), all lit by Kirk Bookman.
The production is filled with historical value, pathos, heart and some new musical numbers. However, it’s still an old tale that has lost its power and feels worn-out.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Rothschild and Sons, thru November 8th, www.yorktheatre.org 212 935-5820