Rothschild & Sons
The Park Theatre, London
First staged on Broadway in 1970 Rothschild & Sons (music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, book by Sherman Yellen and based on The Rothschilds by Frederick Morton) was the last musical by the creators of Fiddler on the Roof, which preceded it by six years.
Rothschild & Sons is only now getting its premiere in the UK in what appears to be a revised chamber version that has been staged effectively by director Jeffrey B Moss. The show enjoyed a modest run in 1970, and it has to be said that at times it does seem a case of Fiddler on the Roof light.
This is understandable since the creators have taken the story of the celebrated Jewish banking family and focused on the founder of the dynasty, Mayer Rothschild – he is very different from Tevye but like him in that he is as patriarchal as can be.
The score is charming and as Mayer the American Robert Cuccioli is on top form – he has a fine voice and creates a fascinating figure as he rises from selling coins in the market place to setting up as a banker and dispatching his five sons to found branches all over Europe.
How they did it is sketched in – this is, after all, a musical – rather lightly and the great Rothschild achievement is not so much becoming richer than Croesus but ensuring that Metternich keep his promise to bring down the ghetto walls throughout the land.
As his devoted wife, Glory Crampton, also an American import, provides strong support and there is a sparkling turn from Gary Trainor as Nathan, the least obedient of his sons who opened the English branch.
It is not the greatest of musicals, and nor is it the best Bock and Harnick creation, but played as a straight through affair in what is in effect a chamber musical format the result fully justifies the decision to rescue it from oblivion.
Collectors of “lost” musicals will relish the chance to see it, but so should anybody seeking an undemanding and tuneful evening at the theatre. It is very much a bid to create another Fiddler, and while it fails that test it remains a perfectly viable show in its own right. The one problem perhaps is that while those ghetto walls may have come down at Metternich’s command way back then, as we all know they were to go back up again with horrific results.