Ragtime, The Musical
(Ragtime, The Musical Website)
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the Novel by E. L. Doctorow
Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street
Starring: Ron Bohmer, Quentin Earl Darrington,
Christiane Noll, Robert Petkoff, Bobby Steggert, Stephanie Umoh,
Christopher Cox, Sarah Rosenthal
An Ensemble of 32 Actors/Singers/Dancers
Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Music Direction by James Moore
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Costume Design: Santo Loquasto
Casting: Laura Stanczyk Casting
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Hair and Wig Design: Edward J. Wilson
Technical Supervisor: Brian Lynch
Production Supervisor: Peter Lawrence
General Manager: John S. Corker
Press Agent: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Marketing: Scott A. Moore
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Orchestrator: William David Brohn
Vocal Arrangements: Stephen Flaherty
Assoc. Director/Choreographer: Josh Walden
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 18, 2009
I distinctly remember the 1998 Broadway Ragtime, The Musical as being an extravaganza of sets, orchestrations, visual and auditory largesse. This new Ragtime, based on the E.L. Doctorow novel, has synthesized the visual and enhanced the visceral, to grab the audience’s emotions and satisfy its desire for romantic and finely tuned musicality. To this end, Ragtime, The Musical at the Neil Simon Theatre is an impressive success, produced by an ensemble of individuals and corporations, as well as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where it was originally staged. The visual streamlining occurs with large steel sets, like a humongous erector set, on which the full cast can be seen, during and between their merging scenarios. The Model T Ford is but an outline, no center, and the piano is small, center stage. The visceral streamlining occurs in the unblemished, elegant vocals of the superbly talented cast, and their eloquence transports the listener into the poignant stories that seamlessly unfold.
The first of three units of the early 1900’s central cast includes the cold, racist Father (Ron Bohmer), his restless, unfulfilled wife, Mother (Christiane Noll), their son, The Little Boy (Christopher Cox), Mother’s Younger Brother, whose political passion turns revolutionary (Bobby Steggert), and Grandfather (Dan Manning). The second unit, a tightly knit African-American family, includes Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Quentin Earl Darrington) and Sarah, his lover then wife and mother of his child (Stephanie Umoh). The third unit includes Tateh (Robert Petkoff), a Russian Jewish immigrant who creates and sells black silhouettes, and his young daughter, The Little Girl (Sarah Rosenthal), who clings to him like glue.
In addition, Ragtime, The Musical presents infamous characters from America’s early heydays, Booker T. Washington (Eric Jordan Young), who advises Coalhouse on all things about survival and the soul, Harry Houdini (Jonathan Hammond), who can free himself of chains and hang upside down, J.P. Morgan (Michael X. Martin), who struts around in a fancy suit and hat, Henry Ford (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), who rakes in a fortune from all the Model T’s, Emma Goldman (Donna Migliaccio), another revolutionary figure, Evelyn Nesbit (Savannah Wise), who catches the eye of all onstage males, no matter their predicament, Admiral Peary (Michael X. Martin), who draws Father into his adventures, and Stanford White (Mike McGowan).
This Ragtime sweeps us through quasi-historical scenes, such as racial violence from working Irish men, who encounter Coalhouse Walker and his Model T, upper class politicians, also taking the law and Mr. Walker into their own hands, the political transformation of Mother’s Younger Brother, as he seeks justice, no matter the risk, and the financial and romantic success of Tateh, who, with The Little Girl, makes a new family and Hollywood movies. On the central stage, Ragtime The Musical sweeps us through Father and Mother’s marital metamorphosis, with Mother drawing strength through strong character and values, and Father desperately clinging to arrogance and righteousness. Also central, and no less riveting, are Sarah and Coalhouse Walker, Jr., as they learn to trust one another, but trust society beyond society’s advancement. Tateh and The Little Girl, less central, but critical to the play’s conclusion, are filled with hope and optimism, but pragmatism and self-protection.
The ragtime motif plays throughout both Acts, and the effect is soothing. Stephen Flaherty’s score and Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics are treated with respect, as they are eloquently showcased in uncluttered, professionally trained vocals. Terrence McNally’s book is timeless and inspiring, with Derek McLane’s multi-level set a visual metaphor for the complex narrative zones. Santo Loquasto’s costumes are understated and authentic, with Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini showing up as colorful characters. Sound and lighting were well pitched, and the entire theatrical experience was enthralling. It did occur to me that a similar production, even more synthesized, could just as well appear on a small stage, few sets, tiny ensemble, but the central cast intact, for an even closer charismatic grasp of the mesmerizing vocals and scenarios. The core of Ragtime, The Musical, is radiant.
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