Before American Bandstand
Rock And Roll Refugee is based on the true-life story of Genyusha Zelkovics whose family escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland and immigrated to the U.S., settling in the Lower East Side of New York City. Her birth name was Americanized to Goldie and her upbringing paved a hard as concrete road from coast to coast and into the realm of music. Her journey transcends the story of Goldie and the Gingerbreads — the first successful all-female rock ‘n roll band — and culminates as a pioneer in the male-dominated music industry.
She then became known as Genya Ravan.
Now playing at Times Square’s Royal Family Performing Arts Space, Rock and Roll Refugee is a formidable work that delves into Genya’s adolescence and assimilation in this country. The tale takes place over several decades with a focus on the ’40s and ’50s — a period that evidently was a catalyst and inspiration for her music career. In the early 1960s Goldie and the Gingerbreads hit the circuit performing in bars, lounges and clubs all over the city. This led to business deals, recording contracts and TV appearances.
As well as life into the American abyss.
Genya was influenced by tunes on the radio, the sounds on the street and the hymns heard from every religious establishment.
One of the greatest things about musical theatre is seeing live performances in their raw, collaborative stages. By that I mean, when they are in workshop and previews before the final production is set. For example, I’ve witnessed many variations of the musical “Jersey Boys” from the initial doo-wop concept to La Jolla Playhouse to its long standing run at the Virginia/August Wilson Theatre on Broadway.
Rock And Roll Refugee is on the same trajectory.
Rocky Horror Road
There is no question that Genya survived a rough, colorful and sometimes tawdry youth. She also independently paved the way for Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Adele and all female rockers and recording artists.
The current book dwells on her family life and formative years that could be summarized and conveyed much quicker with equal impact.
Genya’s story concludes with the song Rivington Street, where she grew up in lower Manhattan; it carries the same guts, glory and chutzpah as the woman herself. This is exactly what the audience is waiting for.
Kudos to the cast:
Charlotte Cohn (Broadway: La Boheme, Coram Boy. NYC: Handle With Care), Katrina Rose Dideriksen (Broadway: Hairspray), Dee Roscioli (Broadway: Wicked, Royal Family’s Love/Sick), with Rachel Geisler (Royal Family’s Love/Sick), Stephanie Israelson (Royal Family’s Love/Sick), DeAngelo Kearns (NYC: The Last Hour), Michael Liscio (Off Broadway: Avenue Q), Lindsay Moore (Regional: Harmony), Kimberlee Murray (Regional: Saturday Night Fever), Kristin Nemecek (NYC: The Storytellers), Christopher Thorn (NYC: As You Like It), Jessica Wu (Regional: A Wonderful Life), and Gwynedd Vetter-Drusch (NYC: Dream of a Butterfly) and Imogen Williams.
Rock And Roll Refugee
Book by Chris Henry; Music & Lyrics by Genya Ravan
Music Direction by Daniel A. Weiss
Choreography by JoAnn M. Hunter & Liz Ramos
Directed by Chris Henry
Royal Family Performing Arts Center
145 West 46th Street 3rd Floor
New York, NY
For tickets: http://www.royalfamilyproductions.org/#!rock-and-roll-refugee/g60wc
Rock And Roll Refugee opens on February 2 and runs thru the 14th.
Photos: Russ Rowland