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Music by Charles Strouse: Lyrics by Stephen Schwartz: Book by Joseph Stein

Opened 21 August 1986 - Mark Hellinger Theatre (4 Perfs)


Rebecca, a Russian Jewish immigrant to the US at the turn of the century finds, to her dismay, that her husband who has preceded her, is determined to assimilate the American way and lose his ethnic identity in order to climb the social ladder. Subplots concern an elderly immigrant, his daughter and their respective romances, one of which ends tragically. It is a saga of hope and disappointments, of power and greed, of strength and love combined with memorable music.

The Story

It is 1910, the height of the great wave of immigration flooding into America from Eastern Europe.

Five Jewish immigrants come over in steerage on the same boat: Rebecca Hershkowitz, fleeing a pogrom that destroyed her village, has come with her young son, David in hopes of being reunited with her husband, Nathan. Nathan has been in America for several years but has not yet sent for them. Avram Cohen and his teenage daughter, Bella, have come in search of a better life. And Ben Levitowitz, a brash young man who has fallen in love with Bella, has come to make his fortune in a land where the streets are said to be paved with gold.

They are processed at Ellis Island along with hordes of others. Rebecca is not met by her husband, so she and David are given temporary shelter by Avram and Bella. Frightened and exhausted on their first night in the new world, they are nonetheless dazzled by the wonderful sights around them. Rebecca's search for Nathan seems hopeless, but when she is most discouraged, she remembers all she and David have gone through to get to America.

The five immigrants go to work: Rebecca in a sweatshop, Bella doing piecework at home, Ben in a cigar factory, and Avram and David peddling from a pushcart. Their long hours and backbreaking labour are leavened by the music of an itinerant Klezmer band.

Saul, a fiery labour organiser, is trying to unionise the shop where Rebecca works. He and Rebecca don't see eye-to-eye about "making trouble;" but he does persuade her to educate herself and David. One night, after an exhilarating outing to see a performance of Hamlet at the Yiddish theatre, Rebecca finds to her distress that she is falling in love with Saul. In the meantime, Bella is becoming bitterly disillusioned with the drabness of her life in America. Although she is momentarily diverted when Ben brings her a new gramophone, she hurls her feelings of frustration at her father and runs off to gaze longingly at the high life of the uptown swells. Meanwhile, at a local Irish pub, a meeting of Tammany politicians is underway. And who should be among them but Rebecca's husband, Nathan. He has renamed himself Nat Harris and is working his way up in local politics, doing dirty work for the corrupt Democratic machine. When he hears Rebecca and David are in America, he hurries off to look for them.

Rebecca and Saul are spending more and more time together. But when David puts Saul's fighting ideas into practice with a gang of local hoodlums, he winds up getting badly beaten up. Rebecca sees this as repeating the danger and violence they had come to America to escape. She breaks with Saul. And just as she does, Nathan arrives.

As Act Two begins, the family celebrates their reunion at the Cherry Street Café where Nathan, ever the politician, works the room. But privately, he reveals to Rebecca his contempt for immigrants like themselves and his determination to assimilate. Although Rebecca tells Saul she can never see him again, their feelings for one another remain strong.

Romance is also on the mind of Avram, who has become the choice of Rachel, a widow with strong opinions and an empty apartment. Bella still has her hopes set on Ben who, with David's help, is becoming successful with a gimmick to sell gramophones. Then tragedy strikes: Bella is killed in a sweatshop fire. Rebecca is devastated ... and radicalised. She leads a strike against sweatshop conditions. And she defies Nathan, who fears his wife's radicalism will endanger his political career. Nathan leaves her, and Rebecca remains with Saul and the strikers.

They have endured hardship, heartbreak, wrenching change, and the fairest of them has perished, but in the end Rebecca, David, Avram, and Ben have begun to make a new life in their new world ... as another boatload of immigrants arrives.

(Stephen Schwartz)

Musical Numbers

  1. OVERTURE - Orchestra
  2. I REMEMBER/GREENHORNS - Homesick Immigrant, Guards, New Immigrants, Cynical Americans, Rebecca & Recruiter
  3. BRAND NEW WORLD - Rebecca & David
  5. PENNY A TUNE - Klezmer Musicians, Rachel, Sweatshop Workers, Rebecca, Rosa, Bella, Ben & David
  6. EASY FOR YOU - Rebecca, Saul & David
  7. HARD TO BE A PRINCE - David, Yiddish Theatre Hamlet & Other Actors
  9. FOR MY MARY - Ben & Irish Tenor
  10. RAGS - Avram & Bella
  11. WHAT'S WRONG WITH THAT? - "Big Tim" Sullivan, Frankie, Nathan & Mike
  12. NOTHING WILL HURT US AGAIN - Rebecca, David & Nathan
  13. ENTR'ACTE - Orchestra
  14. CHERRY STREET CAFE - Sophie Tucker
  15. YANKEE BOY - Nathan, David & Neighbours
  16. UPTOWN - Nathan & Rebecca
  17. WANTING - Rebecca & Saul
  18. THREE SUNNY ROOMS - Rachel & Avram
  19. THE SOUND OF LOVE - David, Ben, Morris's Mother, Morris & Shoppers
  20. KADDISH - David, Rebecca, Avram & Men
  21. BREAD AND FREEDOM/ DANCING WITH THE FOOLS - Rosa, Rebecca, Strikers & Nathan
  22. FINALE - David, Rebecca, Cynical Americans & New Immigrants


9 men, 8 women, 1 boy, chorus

Rebecca Hershkowitz
David - her ten year old son
Nathan Hershkowitz (Harris) - her husband
Saul - a radical union organiser
Bella Cohen - a 17 year old immigrant, Rebecca's friend
Avram - Bella's father
Ben Levitowitz - a young immigrant in love with Bella
Rachel - a plump widow with her eye on Avram
Rosa - a co-worker in Rebecca's sweatshop
Tammany Politicians: "Big Tim" Sullivan, Frankie and Mike
Sophie Tucker
Morris's mother

Immigrants, Cynical Americans, Ellis Island Guards, Klezmer musicians, Yiddish Theatre Actors; Workers, Neighbours, Shoppers & Strikers


Reed I - (piccolo,flute,clarinet, soprano sax)
Reed II - (piccolo, flute, clarinet, alto sax, penny whistle or recorder)
Reed III - (oboe, cor anglais, clarinet, tenor sax, penny whistle[opt])
Reed IV - (flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax)

Horn, 2 trumpets (1st db cornet and piccolo trumpet, 2nd db flugelhorn), trombone db tuba, percussion, drums, guitar db mandolin and banjo Keyboard I - (piano, synth)
Keyboard II - (synth)

4 violins, 2 violas, bass.

On-stage Musicians: clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba, violin


Cast Recording with members of the original cast:
Sony - SK 42657 (5 099704 265728)


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