At the York Theater, extended through November 8. Robert Cuccioli as banking dynasty founder, Mayer Rothschild, is fantastic in this musical version reimagined from 45 years ago. The show is written by Sherman Yellen with music by Jerry Bock and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. Sets by James Morgan are atmospheric and evocative of the Frankfurt ghetto in the 18th and 19th centuries, changing to palaces and the London Exchange, with sumptuous costumes by Carrie Robbins to complete the transformations. Mark Pinter, as various royals and officials including Prince Metternich, provides the right touch of humorous hauteur. Glory Crampton, as Mayer’s wife Gutele, anchors the show as support for Mayer and her sons. In this production she has five sons, who go on to banking fame, and she looks more disheveled after the birth of each son. Unlike events portrayed in the show, the real Gutele was married at 16. She had 19 children (!), including some girls of course, and not all of them lived, so she must have looked genuinely tired after all those births. The rest of the spirited cast is fine as the sons and other roles.

One continuing theme in the show, the Rothschilds asking Prince Metternich to abolish the ghetto, is not quite right. It turns out that the Rothschilds’ funds, with son Nathan in England propping up Wellington, led to the allies' victory at Waterloo in 1815 over Napoleon, an unseen nemesis. The other sons, scattered across banking capitals elsewhere, backed the allied monarchs and their conservatism. Earlier, in 1811, Napoleon overran Frankfurt and it was his appointee, Grand Duke Karl von Dahlberg, who abolished the ghetto.

Napoleon’s creed of spreading the ideals of the French Revolution, with better education and emancipation, was the exact doctrine that Wellington, and the others were fighting. Napoleon knew that an economy with Jews and Protestants free to move about was good for business. The Rothschilds were for reform, but their successful banking dynasty was ironically due to backing the old guard. If Rothschild & Sons portrayed the true events of the period, the story would have been just as compelling. Highly recommended. – Patty

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© 2015 by Patricia N. Saffran.  All rights reserved.

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