Ambitious aims

By Liz Reyna

Riverwalk revives ’The Rothschilds’

“They’re coming!” With a newborn son in her arms, Gutele Rothschild warns her family — her five sons and their father, a Jewish coin merchant from Frankfort, Germany — of the incoming mob attack. The sound of panic is heard in the rhythm of their footsteps, as more than a dozen feet flee from the family store. “Papa I hate them,” cries middle son Nathan Rothschild in a fit of anger.

“Don’t ever say that,” interrupts his father, Mayer Rothschild. “They’re a mob. We’re a family. Hatred comes cheap to a mob. A family buys it dear.”

Doak Bloss, who plays Mayer, is acting, but just barely. The story of the Rothschilds, a famous Jewish family who rose from oppression in the ghettos of Germany to build an international banking dynasty, resonates with him dearly. So dearly, he’s begun to have fatherly feelings toward his fellow actors. “I’m having this really strong reaction to the people that represent my sons,” Bloss said. “I watch the scenes I’m not in, and the scenes after I’m dead, and I start to tear up because I’m so proud of them.”

Onstage and off, the title family of Riverwalk Theatre’s season-closing musical was going over some final touches during rehearsal last Thursday night.

“The Rothschilds,” with book by Sherman Yellen, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and music by Jerry Bock, is a musical about a Jewish family tradition. Although the “Fiddler on the Roof” team of Harnick and Bock penned the lyrics and tunes, Bloss said it’s a far cry from the tale of “Yiddle-diddle” milkman Tevye. “A simplistic way to look at the show is to say it’s ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ if Tevye actually had become a rich man,” Bloss said. “But if you look at it on a deeper level, there is a lot of applicability to the state of women, or of people of color or of people of low socio-economic status.”

The play chronicles the true life and death story of Mayer Rothschild, patriarch to the Rothschild name. Set in the late 18th century during the Napoleonic War, Mayer, like most Jews of the time, lives under daily oppression. While in Frankfort, Mayer and his wife Gutele have five sons who work with him selling rare coins in the family store. The play follows the financialy savvy family as their sons grow, branching out across Europe to build a banking empire. Arising from the ghettos, the family uses its savvy to expose crooked officials and win freedom for the Jews of greater Germany. “This is the story of a man and his family, who dreams of better things not only for his family but for all Jewish people,” director Jane Falion said.

Falion wanted to bring the play to Lansing since she first saw it on Broadway in 1970. “I loved the show, I was intrigued by the show, but I couldn’t see how it could be adapted here,” Falion said.

More than 40 characters from two centuries, each with a slew of costume-changes, squeezed their way onto the Broadway stage. Too big for small theater, Falion held the play like a mirage in the distance in her mind for decades, until she saw a scaled-down production by the Circle in the Square in 1990. “After seeing that, I realized I could do it,” she said. “Or rather, it could be done.”

Falion’s smaller cast features 30 actors, mostly male. She said Riverwalk’s stage and house are the perfect size for the scaleddown version. Falion is calling the production "Michigan’s revival of the show." Because of its elaborate set, costumes and large cast, she said it hasn’t been performed in Michigan in nearly 30 years.

Joseph Baumann, who plays older son Nathan, said the show’s rarity and mix of message and music make it unique among local offerings. "It’s something bigger than a lot of people appreciate in community theater," he said. "Everyone gets what they want out of it, but I think the moral of the story is that there is something deeper than just the music."

‘The Rothschilds’

4-14 7 p.m. Thursday 8 p.m. Friday & Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday
Riverwalk Theatre, 228 Museum Drive, Lansing $20/$18 (517) 482-5700

Riverbank Bard

Shakespeare on the Grand, a new division of Lansing Civic Players bringing the Bard’s works to the riverfront in downtown Lansing, will hold auditions for its summer production of “All’s Well That Ends Well.”

Director Lindsay Palinsky said the new company, under the auspices of Civic Players, was working to fill a void for free, outdoor Shakespeare left by the inactive Sunsets with Shakespeare (which Palinsky worked with as an assistant director for the last two years).

Auditions for male and female actors ages 18 to 50-plus are scheduled for 7:00 p.m. June 7 and 8 at the Civic Players Firehouse, 2300 E. Michigan Ave., Lansing. Performances are July 30 through Aug. 9 in Riverfront Park. Rehearsals are weeknights at 6:30 p.m. at the Firehouse.

The comedy tells the story of common girl Helena and her love for the young nobleman, Betram, whom, thanks to her father’s medicinal talents, she is able to snag as her husband ­— but must trick into making a devoted husband.

For more info, call Civic Players at (517) 484-9115 or visit www.lansingcivicplayers. org.