‘Rothschild & Sons’ review

Theatre, Musicals
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Spirited revival of this so-so musical from the writers of 'Fiddler on the Roof'

While the musical ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ has been consistently revived around the globe since its Broadway debut in 1964, Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick’s other musical with a Jewish protagonist is less well known. ‘Rothschild & Sons’ – which sets the origins of the famous family financial empire to song – was their final collaboration.

It’s Frankfurt, 1772, and Mayer Rothschild dreams of a future for his children beyond the ghetto walls that imprison him and the rest of the city’s Jewish community. When war breaks out in Europe and debts are owed, he sees a chance to make this happen.

Jeffrey B Moss’s production is pared back to the bone, set-wise, leaving much of the heavy-lifting to Jack Weir’s inventive lighting design – stark spotlights and silhouettes – and projections evoking courts and cities. Still, the stage feels glaringly empty at times.

The show arrives at the Park Theatre with Robert Cuccioli and Glory Crampton reprising their roles as Mayer and his wife Gutele following a New York revival.

Cuccioli imbues Mayer with a stern but not unbending determination to see his sons succeed. Crampton, meanwhile, does what she can with a role that literally leaves her holding the baby. They have a gentle chemistry. The five sons are nicely rendered by the cast, with Gary Trainor (fresh from starring in ‘School of Rock’) getting the most to do as the impetuous Nathan.

But in spite of the cast’s energy – including an entertaining turn from Tony Timberlake as a colourfully mercurial prince – this is not an A-grade musical. Bock and Harnick’s score and lyrics, while occasionally dipping into their signature playful harmonies, lack the memorable numbers of their other work, like ‘Fiddler’. You won’t come away humming.

Sherman Yellen’s book succinctly sketches in the prejudices of the times – if softening their brutality – as well as the importance of family. And when the Rothschild boys finally put a sneering Prince Metternich in his place, it’s satisfying. But, simply put, this show struggles to turn its tale of bonds and financial instruments into absorbing theatre.  

By: Tom Wicker

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