From Rags to Riches

While you're in the East Village, you may also want to look into the new show at Metropolitan Playhouse, From Rags to Riches. This is a revival of a 1903 melodrama by Charles A. Taylor, a mostly forgotten play whose main claim to fame is that it introduced the great actress Laurette Taylor to Broadway. From Rags to Riches is the kind of play that Edna Ferber and then Oscar Hammerstein poked loving fun at in Show Boat, in which some virtuous characters are set upon by some purely evil characters, with nary a chance that Good won't emerge triumphant by the final curtain. Here the bad guys are "Prince" Charlie Montgomery, the rotten-to-the-core nephew (and heir) of a rich old gentleman, and his supposed wife, Flora Bradley. Years ago, Charlie ruined the Cooper family by trumping up charges against the father, Albert, then turning his wife against him and stealing away their two children, Flossie and Ned. Now a series of fairly unbelievable coincidences brings all of these people back together again, providing opportunities for revenge, comeuppance, and plenty more mischief on the part of Charlie and Flora.

The characters are colorful but resolutely two-dimensional, the situations are outrageous, and the dialogue is often hard to swallow. But the play depicts an innocent America now wholly lost, and I wished that director Alex Roe (also Metropolitan's artistic director, and the show's set designer and composer) had avoided playing the last half so much for laughs, even while recognizing that From Rags to Riches is probably unplayable in 2011 any other way. This is an interesting artifact, the sort of theater that Metropolitan has built its excellent reputation on. I loved Peter Judd's performance as the dying old gent (and his spiffy nightcap and dressing gown; costumes are by Sidney Fortner) and Paul Bomba's totally committed turn as Ned, the upstanding young fellow who more than holds his own against nasty Prince Charlie. Roe's set design is pretty impressive, too.