June 10 2009 12:00 AM

Ambitious ’Rothschilds’ pays off for Riverwalk


Grand ambitions sum up the scale of “The Rothschilds” in story and in Riverwalk Theatre’s production of the Broadway show. With story and songs by Sherman Yellen, Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, “The Rothschilds” is, in many ways, a more historical and less universal follow-up to the hit musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” While the songs are not as strong or addicting to sing as “Fiddler,” the story of courage and ambition is, which makes “The Rothschilds” worth seeing.

The play follows the life of Mayer Rothschild, played by Doak Bloss, from his humble living quarters in a Jewish ghetto in Germany to his sons using his amassed fortunes to help the British topple Napoleon’s regime. Throughout his life, his entire family battles with government-sponsored oppression of Jews, as they fight for equal rights.

Director Jane Falion brings together a relatively large cast and chorus, which give many strong performances. In many ways, Bloss is a one-character actor, but his performance somehow works for every character he plays. For this show, he relies once again on his smirks, charm and comic timing blended with tireless energy, subtly aging his posture and voice until he ultimately dies of exhaustion. Bloss does not have the strongest voice, but he knows how to use it to his advantage and frequently does. Colleen Bethea, as Mayer’s wife, Gutele, gives a flawless performance, from her voice to her onstage relationship with her husband and her sons.

Probably the most impressive casting in the show is of the five sons as the grow from children into adults. Joel Reynolds, Dominic Redman, Nic Roberts and Lexie Roberts dance around, in what is sadly only one scene, as four of the five children (they grow so fast). Scott Larson, Simon Tower, Joseph Baumann, Logan Emlet and Danny Bethea play the sons for the rest of the show, beginning in their adolescence to their adult years. While all of the sons are strong together as a mini-ensemble, a couple of standouts drive the show all the way to the end. Roberts and Baumann, who play the younger and older Nathan, respectively, use a spunky charisma that makes them their father’s favorite, as well as the audience’s. Baumann impressively carries almost the entire second half of the show, which moves more swiftly and cohesively than the first.

The rest of the chorus has the strongest and weakest moments. The men by themselves cannot carry a tune any more than the members of a Rotary Club meeting, but combined with the women, they all find their notes. The polished scenes demonstrate what the cast is capable of when the practice is put in.

Music director James Geer struggles at times with the challenging music, but he mostly manages to keep everyone on track. Choreographer Roberta Otten moves the cast nicely within the songs. Mary K. Hodges-Nees has designed beautiful period costumes, which range from the paupers to the pampered aristocrats of 17th century Europe.

On one level “The Rothschilds” is the ultimate “rags-to-riches” story, where the main character pulls himself up through his own ambitions. On another, it shows the importance of family sticking together through the worst so they can all make it together to see the best, and that is the most relevant theme of all.

‘The Rothschilds’

June14 7 p.m. Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday
Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing $20/$18 (517) 482-5700 www.riverwalktheatre.com