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Borough right place for revival of ‘Rags’

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Queens, with its mosaic of cultures from many different lands, seems a fitting venue for a revival of the Broadway musical hit "Rags," the story of a Jewish family who comes to America on the crest of the early 20th century wave of immigration, and settles in New York.

The play, which was nominated for five Tony awards during its Broadway run, will have a run of eight performances starting June 7 at the Flushing Town Hall Theatre. "Rags" is a story of love, prejudice, hard work, class identity, and the hopes and dreams of new Americans.

Joseph Stein, playwright of "Rags," who also penned "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Zorba" for the stage, says the play's basic story of immigration remains the same in the revival, but the characters have been furthered developed.

"The play is doing very well everywhere it goes," Stein told Qguide, "but we have made changes in the book and in the score."

Stein said his inspiration for the story, for one, came from his parents who were Jewish immigrants from Russia.

"Fiddler on the Roof," based on the Shalom Alaichem tales of Eastern European Jewry under czarist Russia, also inspired "Rags," Stein said, because at the conclusion of that story, Tevya the milkman and his family also emigrate to America.

"What we have done [in 'Rags'] is improve the relationship between Rebecca and her friend, Bella. She has become much more of a central character and so has Bella - they are now the focus of the show," Stein said.

"Of course, hopefully it is the story of all immigrants, even although we just focus on the two families," he added.

"Rags" gets its title from a common Yiddish expression for work in the garment industry. "It's about people coming to New York, and trying to get work," producer Susan Agin told Qguide. "They are trying to get reunited with their families. Most of the immigrants at that time worked at the sweatshops under horrendous conditions."

Agin says the production is "very true to form," and gives an accurate account of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Company in the Manhattan garment district, in which 146 women died. It was a living - actually, dying - example of the conditions faced by garment workers at the time (and perhaps faced in many cases by present-day immigrants in New York).

The play is "a lot of things, of course, including a love story," Agin said. "I think the theme is very relevant because Flushing is a focal point of immigration."

Show dates are June 7, 8, 9, 14, 15, and 16 at 8 p.m., and June 10 and 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $22 ($18 for Town Hall members) and are on sale at the Town Hall box office, open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Reach reporter Daniel Arimborgo by e-mail at timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300 Ext. 141.

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