Thursday, November 19, 2009

Ragtime: The Musical

Seeing the original Ragtime a decade ago was such a memorable experience that I kept re-seeing it last night during the greatly scaled-down Broadway revival at the Neil Simon Theatre. This new one is just fine, with its delightful characters from E.L. Doctorow’s epic 1975 novel and the thrilling Tony-winning score by Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music). But oh, how I missed the elaborate staging of the first, which quite rightly won the Tony Award for best musical in 1998.

I’m definitely a Ragtime fan. I read the novel during the summer of 1976, saw the movie when it came out, have the soundtrack album to that movie and loved the music from the Broadway version so much I went out the next day and bought the cast recording. I have listened to it so much over the years that I probably could prompt any actor on any song -- and then some since the original score has been trimmed a bit. So, of course, I’m happy to have Ragtime back on Broadway. It’s an excellent production and should be nominated for best revival of a musical (although Finian’s Rainbow is my choice for that award).

Like the novel, the musical, which is directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge, starts with three families of different wealth and status -- the wealthy WASPS from “the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle,” the blacks from Harlem with their “strange new music” (ragtime) and the immigrants with their dreams of a better life in America. By the end the separations break down as the different lives merge, old ways fade and new expressions point to the future. Historic characters like Harry Houdini (Jonathan Hammond), J.P. Morgan (Michael X. Martin), Henry Ford (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), Booker T. Washington (Eric Jordan Young), Emma Goldman (Donna Migliaccio) and Evelyn Nesbit (Savannah Wise) are woven in and out of the sweeping personal tale, which begins in 1906. (The musical’s book won a Tony Award for Terrence McNally.)

Even pared down, the revival still clocks in at two hours and 45 minutes, but the show is so involving the time flies. The characters, brought to life by a 40-actor cast, are the story, and so many of the songs are spectacular that they don’t need scenery around them.

Christiane Noll plays Mother, and like all of the WASP family members except the young son, Edgar (Christopher Cox), she has no name. Quentin Earl Darrington is Coalhouse Walker Jr., the up and coming ragtime musician, and Stephanie Umoh is Sarah, the love of his life and the mother of his child. (Both in photo.) Robert Petkoff is Tateh, the Jewish immigrant widower who arrives from Latvia with his young daughter (Sarah Rosenthal) and achieves great success as a movie director, having invented the process of moving pictures.

The skeletal, tiered set is by Derek McLane and the lush costumes are courtesy of Santo Loquasto. Donald Holder’s lighting sets all the right tones. James Moore leads the 28-piece orchestra.

This production of Ragtime first had a successful run at the Kennedy Center this past spring year. Tickets are available for the Broadway run by calling Ticketmaster at (212) 307-4100, visiting or at the Neil Simon box office, 250 W. 52nd St.

A lottery ticket program is also available. Two hours before each performance, people may enter the lottery drawing at the theatre for a limited number of $26.50 tickets to that day's performance. Names will be drawn 90 minutes before curtain time. Two-ticket limit per person; cash only. Winners must be present with valid identification at the time of the drawing.

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1 comment:

Christmas said...

I likewise adore Ragtime! It's interesting because I only recently discovered "Finian's Rainbow" when my friend said it had the best musical songs out of any show she's seen. I'm still looking into it.