Cuccioli as Mayer Rothschild
by Eugene Paul
a rich and moving reworking of the well remembered Bock/Harnick musical, The
Rothschilds, new ground has been plowed which gives book writer Sherman
Yellen reason to make positive changes in his original book, the astounding
story of that family, baring the bite that was carefully muted last time, 45
years ago: the utter vileness of treatment afforded Jews, and what it took to
overcome such treatment by this exceptional family. And how that treatment has
mostly changed, but the vileness remains. Strong stuff, especially pungent in
Crampton and Robert Cuccioli
Amschel Rothschild (simply splendid Robert Cuccioli) is rushing to his home in
the Jewish ghetto of Frankfurt, Germany where he was born in 1743. The town
crier has called curfew time. The gates will be locked. Of course, he is
harassed, of course, he is extorted, but he gets inside to find his sweetheart,
Gutele (equally splendid Glory Crampton) still awake, waiting to hear: can
they get married? Only twelve Jews a year are permitted to marry. Mayer has not
only permission, he has attained a connection at the court of the Prince of
Hesse, their local Lord, as money changer. Mayer is not yet twenty years old,
a fire within him. He must make his way. He needs sons.
gives him five sons, more than he dreamed and he trains them and trains them in
banking, in business, in tenacity, infusing them with his fire, and twenty
years later, he is able and confident enough to offer them as his collateral
for pursuing a large loan the Prince of Hesse wishes to make to the King of
Denmark, a loan his own bankers cannot fulfill. He spurns the Rothschilds,
then tests each son, then, desperate, – gives them a grudgingly qualified try.
Which means he has to declare them official. The House of Rothschild has begun.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
who would have been happy in “One Room”, has raised a family that wants
“Everything”. Mayer Amschel is determined that his sons will be free, the
equals of anyone in the world, and to achieve that freedom, they have to become
rich, so rich they will have to be respected, even for their money alone. To
succeed at this huge task, they must be not one banking unit but a family of
six bankers, all over Europe, each a separate success, all of them working
together. And, as the world knows, Mayer Amschel succeeded beyond even those
wild dreams. Today, the Rothschilds are invulnerable, their name their currency
around the globe. Other great Jewish banking houses, the Ephrussis, the
Barings, have vanished. Not the Rothschilds.
Jeffrey B. Moss, working with librettist Yellen and lyricist Sheldon Harnick,
has crafted a swiftly moving, involving story line with a greatly reduced cast
– eleven, lots of expeditious doubling – the intensity of their story never
lagging. James Morgan’s handsome, ingenious atmospheric scenic design helps
enormously as do Carrie Robbins’ costumes ( how do they change them so fast?),
along with Kirk Bookman’s attention directing lighting.
Pinter has a sly, sardonic time as the Prince of Hesse, as Herries, and as
Prince Metternich. Glory Crampton as Gutele, matriarch, inhabits her role with
such humor and understanding you find yourself happily surprised each time she
sings so beautifully. She is a delight in her newly emphasized importance in
the revamped book. And Robert Cuccioli is unmistakably an award contender in
his fervor and strength as Mayer Amschel. The five sons, Jacob, Salomon,
Amschel, Kalman and particularly Nathan (David Bryant Johnson, James
LaVerdiere, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Curtis Wiley and Christopher Williams)
were individually and as a team just fine and not at all half bad in a clutch
of other roles as well.
stays with you is, however, a lagging fear. History has a way of repeating
itself if you’re not careful. Mayer Amschel was careful, very careful. I’m
not so sure about us. His poignant song, “In My Own Lifetime” thus carries a
sharper edge than once it did.
At the York Theatre, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. Tickets:
$67.50. 212-935-5820. 1hr,50 min. Thru Nov 8.