Broadway is starting fast this season: Two big musicals already. Last week it was "Me and My Girl." This week--to lesser response--"Rags."
The new musical is another Ellis Island saga, starring soprano Teresa Stratas as a dauntless Russian woman who comes to the U.S.A. in search of her husband and a better life. The Broadway critics generally applauded Stratas' performance and Charles Strouse's ambitious score.
On balance, though, they weren't thrilled. The New York Times' Frank Rich thought Joseph Stein's book tried to say so much about the immigrant experience that it became a superficial "stewpot" of archetypes. "A plaster saint, even when played by Miss Stratas, is sexless."
The Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara concurred. "The show nearly sinks under its solemnity." Still, he felt that Stratas' intensity was enough to galvanize the material. Clive Barnes of the Post went beyond that and called Stratas "the heroine of the hour."
Douglas Watt of the Daily News didn't concur. "Stratas is, in the end, and in spite of her singing, not very well suited to the part of this beset but spunky immigrant, and she never appears very comfortable in it."
Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was the first important woman playwright, but even in an age of feminism her works are rarely produced. Now the Royal Shakespeare Company is doing her best-known comedy, "The Rover."
"Unlike many a theatrical exhumation, it's a delight," reports Gregory Jensen of United Press International.
Lois Potter was more severe in her report for the Times Literary Supplement. She liked John Barton's production well enough (it stars Jeremy Irons as a bumbling rake and his wife, Sinead Cusack, as a pert courtesan) but she didn't much like what Barton had done to Behn's original text, inserting lines of his own and grafting on passages from other plays of the time that he considered relevant.
"It is not the play that Aphra Behn wrote," said Potter, "and its attempts at introducing feminism are something of an insult to her. It works theatrically. But it would have worked even better if Barton had left it alone."
TITLE OF THE WEEK: We wouldn't walk across the street to see "The Little Shop of Horrors" in English, but who could resist seeing "La Petite Boutique des Horreurs" at the Theatre Dejazet in Paris?