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A CurtainUp Review
From Rags to Riches
The title neatly sums up the story: The heroes go from rags to riches. But beyond the surface plot, From Rags to Richers offers a fascinating critique of American wealth, and shows us the ripples of perversions in the idle rich; for example a philanthropist called Old Montgomery (Peter Judd) who bestows wealth on the worthy poor, but also has a morphine addiction that makes him quite dim-witted. Worse, he dies (or is he murdered?) early on from an aneurysm.
What keeps the show afloat is its blend of silky villainy, gritty heroism, and some blithely catchy tunes (original music by Alex Roe) played on the piano by the gifted Ralph Petrarca. The production demonstrates the split personality of melodrama, or to borrow from the program notes, “its constituent parts are “melos” (music) and “drame” (drama).”
Tod Mason's gambler Prince Charlie positively oozing with unsatisfied greed and dandified vanity. Erin Leigh Schmoyer's Lolita-like Flossie, hits all the hot-button issues of upward mobility. Paul Bomba's newsboy Nimble Ned is pluck personified. Carol Lambert as Mother Murphy is a fireball of energy and Ralph Petrarca is laudable as the ex-convict Albert Cooper. Erwin Falcon and Ingrid Saxon are convincing in their minor roles of Chinese Sam and Gertrude Clark. Rounding out the ensemble are Claire Warden as the “adventuress” Flora Bradley, Richard Cottrell as the valet Brown, Danny Makali’i Mittermeyer as Police Officer Mike Dooley, and Peter Judd as Old Montgomery.
Though the characters are more types than fully-realized dramatic figures, this old-fashioned melodrama nevertheless poses some questions that still resonate: How does one deal with the harsh realities of a class-conscious society? Why does money so often contaminate people and situations? Indeed this show takes place at the juncture of “class” and “money.” It sharply dramatizes what happens in the Bowery when the upper-crust meets the lower, and sins are very much what they used to be. We witness murder, abduction, rape, a detour into a Chinatown opium den, and a surprising eleventh-hour turnaround that shifts the action to a posh room at the Waldorf-Astoria.
Admittedly, there are times when the play goes way over the top and turns into slapstick; for example, a literally smashing scene in Act 2 that has Nimble Ned executing a Herculean feat to rescue his sister Flossie. And though it represents the play's peak moment and is ingeniously staged, it also makes you understand why 19th-century melodramas went out of fashion.
From Rags to Riches is dated in its style, but under Alex Roe’s intelligent direction, this old saga about economic stagnation is right on the money.
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