A musical about the pursuit of the American Dream at the turn of the 20th century
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Full Synopsis

Act One

A group of immigrants onstage speak of their hopes and dreams of coming to America. The scene transitions to the deck of a ship headed to America. Rebecca, with her son David asleep on her lap, speaks to Bella, a fellow passenger. As a parting gift, she gives Bella a lace collar she made ("If We Never Meet Again").

When the passengers spot the Statue of Liberty, they know they have arrived in America ("Greenhorns"). At Ellis Island, officials tell Rebecca that she must either pay twenty dollars or have someone waiting for her to enter the country. Rebecca has neither. Meanwhile, Bella is reunited with her father Avram. Rebecca spots Bella and tells officials she's her cousin. Bella and Avram play along, and the officials release Rebecca and David. Bella invites them to stay with her and Avram.

On the streets of the Lower East Side in New York City, Rebecca is amazed by the sights and sounds ("Brand New World"). At the tenement where Avram lives, Rebecca and David meet his sister Anna and her husband Jack. That night, David tells her he misses Nathan, his father. Rebecca sings him to sleep while she secretly worries for their new future ("Edge of a Knife").

In the morning, Bella tells Jack that Rebecca can sew and shows her the lace collar she made. Jack, who runs a small sewing business, hires her. Ben, their delivery man, arrives and is instantly smitten with Bella. Jack makes David their new "schlepper" and promotes Ben to stitcher. A busy day of work begins ("Fabric of America").

On the streets, Avram is with his pushcart. He is supposed to sell goods but prefers to read his book ("Penny A Tune"). Rachel, a fellow vendor, teaches him how to sell his wares and bargain with customers. Rebecca finds Avram and tells a curious Rachel that he is unmarried. David finds them and shows a flag the someone gave him but doesn't know what it says because he can't read English. Rachel reads the flag: "No Dogs, No Jews" ("Greenhorns (Reprise)").

Back at the tenement, the work day is over. Ben finds a piano left by prior tenants and begins to play for Bella ("Bella's Song (Part 1)"). Anna and the family prepare for Shabbos. Sal, their neighbors, comes to turn their lights on for them. Sal introduces himself to Rebecca ("Meet an Italian"). As the family begins Shabbos, Sal goes to Mass with his mother ("Friday Night Prayers"). Later that night, David wakes from nightmare, calling for his father. Rebecca comforts him, and Bella asks her what happened to them before they came to America ("No More Nightmares"). Rebecca tells of how she and David lost Nathan when the Cossacks burned their home and barely made it to America alive. Rebecca and Bella vow to open a dress shop together.

In the morning, Bella sneaks one of the dresses Rebecca redesigned into the bundle of dresses David will deliver. On the street, Ben is inspired by a clarinetist playing ("Bella's Song (Part 2)"). At the tenement, Ben tells everyone he got a job playing piano at a theater. Bronfman, the factory owner and Jack's boss, shows up to talk about Rebecca's redesigned dress. Bronfman loves her dress and wants her to make more of them ("Little Lady"). He also asks Rebecca to make something special for a client of his.

After Bronfman leaves, they all go to the theater to celebrate. Sal goes with them. They watch the show, an adaptation of Hamlet ("Cheer Up, Chaimlet"). After the show, Sal shows Rebecca a flyer for a strike he and other workers are planning against Bronfman. Rebecca and Sal then come across a xenophobic rally ("Take Our City Back"). Sal gets into a fight with a few people but manages to get away from them. As they walk the streets, Sal tells her they both want the same things ("Blame It On The Summer Night").

Ben shows his new Gramophone to Bella, Jack, Anna, Avram, Sal and Rebecca ("For My Mary"). As he and Bella dance, Avram stops the music disapprovingly and tells Ben to leave. Bella storms off to her room. In the streets, an angry mob is enraged by a pamphlet for "The Great Revolt", the strike Sal is helping organize ("Take Our Country Back"). Rebecca, Avram, and Bella find David, who has been beaten up. Rebecca promises to David that better days will come ("The Vow").

Uptown, Rebecca and Bella are lost getting to Bronfman's client with their new dress. A group of men attack them and rip the dress. Devastated, Rebecca is ready to give up on her dreams in America ("Rags"), but Bella tells her that they still have a chance. Regaining her determination, Rebecca tells Bella she will keep fighting for a better life for them and David.

Act Two

Everyone is celebrating Independence Day on Coney Island ("On The Fourth Day of July"). Ben performs a song to cheer up David ("Yankee Boy"). A man asks Ben if he can buy his sheet music, inspiring Ben to sell his songs. Bronfman, who has joined the outing, talks to Rebecca about changing her last name to "an American name" and the prospect of having a new life away from the Lower East Side ("Uptown").

Days later, David comes home and tells everyone that the factory they deliver to is closed due to the strike. Jack worries they will have no work for months. Rebecca heads out to find Sal. At the strike ("Bread and Freedom"), Rebecca confronts him, saying the strike puts her family in an impossible position. Sal accuses her of selling out to Bronfman and the two part from each other, both heartbroken ("Wanting").

Ben is working on his song ("Bella's Song (Part 3)") when movers come to take the piano away from the tenement. After they pay Jack for the piano and take the piano away, Ben promises Bella he will someday finish the song. Rebecca comes home with money from a fitting she got paid for and tells Bella she got her a new job at a factory thanks to Bronfman. Avram warns them that employers lock the doors at those places, but Bella brushes his concerns off. David comes home after seeing Sal at the strike, much to Rebecca's disapproval. David argues with her about Bronfman ("Rags (Reprise)").

On her way to her new job, Bella runs into Ben, who has a new job playing piano at another theater. Ben happily accompanies her to the factory. Avram and Rachel catches sight of them together. Rachel and Avram about moving into her apartment and starting a life together ("Three Sunny Rooms").

As Shabbos is about to start, Sal comes to turn on the lights for Jack and Anna. They invite him to eat with them and tell him they're moving to Chicago to work with Anna's brother-in-law ("Friday Night Prayers (Reprise)"). Later uptown, Bronfman's clients are impressed with Rebecca's work. Sal interrupts their meeting to tell Rebecca that Bella died in a fire at the factory. Avram is devastated ("Kaddish") and Ben mourns her ("Bella's Song (Part 4)"), as does Rebecca ("If We Never Meet Again (Reprise)").

Rebecca arrives at the strike, where Bronfman warns her to leave. Rebecca defies him and joins Sal and the workers ("Bread and Freedom (Reprise)"). Back at the tenement, Rebecca and David bid farewell to Jack and Anna. Rebecca has found a new home and a new shop to start her business. Ben hands his finished sheet music "Bella's Song" to Rebecca and Avram, who is unmoved and still gripped by grief. After Ben leaves, Rebecca reprimands Avram for not honoring Bella by embracing life. As she's about to leave, Avram wishes her luck. He and Rachel finish packing up and leave.

Rebecca remains in the empty apartment ("Children Of the Wind"). Sal comes to say goodbye before he heads to Boston to organize more unions. Rebecca tells him to come find her when he returns. After he leaves, David comforts a nervous Rebecca as they face an exciting future ("Finale").

← Back to Rags
Cast Size: Medium (11 to 20 performers)
Cast Type: Star Vehicle Female
Dance Requirements: Standard

Character Breakdown

Rebecca Hershkowitz
Gender: female
Vocal range top: G5
Vocal range bottom: F3
David Hershkowitz

Rebecca's son

Gender: male
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: Eb3
Bella Cohen
Gender: female
Vocal range top: E5
Vocal range bottom: Ab3
Avram Cohen

Bella's father

Gender: male
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Anna Blumberg

Avram's sister

Gender: female
Vocal range top: Db5
Vocal range bottom: B3
Ben Levitowitz

A worker

Gender: male
Vocal range top: A4
Vocal range bottom: Ab2
Rachel Brodsky

A peddler

Gender: female
Vocal range top: B4
Vocal range bottom: Bb3
Sal Russo

A neighbor

Gender: male
Vocal range top: G4
Vocal range bottom: Ab2
Max Bronfman
Gender: male
Vocal range top: Gb4
Vocal range bottom: B2
Two Americans

Two Men, Two Women

Gender: any
Jack Blumberg

Anna's husband

Gender: male
Vocal range top: E4
Vocal range bottom: Bb2
Full Song List
Rags: Prologue
Rags: If We Never Meet Again
Rags: Greenhorns
Rags: Brand New World
Rags: Edge of a Knife
Rags: Fabric of America
Rags: Penny a Tune
Rags: Greenhorns (Reprise)
Rags: Bella’s Song (Part 1)
Rags: Meet an Italian
Rags: Shabbos / Latin Mass
Rags: No More Nightmares
Rags: Bella’s Song (Part 2)
Rags: Little Lady
Rags: Cheer Up, Chaimlet
Rags: Take Our City Back
Rags: Blame It on the Summer Night
Rags: For My Mary
Rags: Take Our Country Back
Rags: The Vow
Rags: Rags
Rags: Entr’ Acte
Rags: On the Fourth Day of July
Rags: Yankee Boy
Rags: Uptown
Rags: Penny a Tune (Reprise)
Rags: Bread and Freedom
Rags: Wanting
Rags: Bella’s Song (Part 3)
Rags: Rags (Reprise)
Rags: Three Sunny Rooms
Rags: Shabbos (Reprise)
Rags: Kaddish
Rags: Bella’s Song (Part 4)
Rags: If We Never Meet Again (Reprise)
Rags: Bread and Freedom (Reprise)
Rags: Children of the Wind
Rags: Finale



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Book by
Joseph Stein
Music by
Charles Strouse
Lyrics by
Stephen Schwartz
Revised book by
David Thompson


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