Musicals about finance are rare; those that portray financiers in a positive light are even rarer. Rothschild and Sons, which finished its run at north London’s Park Theatre on Saturday, tells the story of the banking dynasty.
The story begins in the mid 18th century when Meyer Rothschild (Robert Cuccioli) returns home to Frankfurt to take over the family store and marry Gutele (Glory Campton). However, his plans are thrown into question by the need to live in Frankfurt’s Jewish ghetto and the laws that limit the number of Jewish marriages. While an encounter with Prince William of Hesse (Tony Timberlake) solves the second problem, he still has to grapple with the fact that he is very much a second class citizen.
However, a combination of chutzpah, ingenuity and willingness to be an intermediary between Prince William and his bankers mean that Meyer gradually accumulates influence, eventually persuading the prince to allow his sons to conduct business on the prince’s behalf. So when Napoleon’s victories force Prince William into exile, the Rothschilds are the only ones who can make sure that the prince’s debtors don’t take advantage of the situation to renege on their debts. As part of this scheme, Nathan (Gary Trainor), the cleverest son, is sent to London, where, after a few stumbles, he becomes a successful financier in his own right.
As the Napoleonic wars reach their climax, Britain and its allies desperately need funds that the market is unwilling to lend to them. Nathan spots an opportunity to advance the cause of liberty, by proposing that the Rothschilds lend money to Britain at a discount provided it pressures the rest of Europe to end the ghettos. This scheme is opposed by Meyer, who argues that Europe can’t be trusted and that mixing idealism and money could cost them everything. This sets off an epic confrontation between father and sons that could determine the fate of Europe.
A slightly shortened version of a show by the team behind Fiddler on the Roof, Rothschild and Sons isn’t quite as musically impressive as the more well-known show. Still, it tells a moving story of oppression and the ability of free enterprise to tear down walls both metaphorical and literal. It even contains an investment lesson, with Nathan Rothschild losing money when he follows a “hot tip” to speculate in tea. Director Jeffrey B Moss also takes advantage of the compact stage to produce a show that packs a punch.
The Park Theatre has impressive record of arranging transfers to the National Theatre, so there is hope that we’ve not seen the last of this show yet.