(Photo: Joan Marcus)
By Lauren Yarger
With its beautiful score (Stephen Flattery), grand, elegant set (Derek McLane, design), lovely turn of the century costumes (Santo Loquasto) and issues like racism, immigration and the economy that could be ripped from today’s headlines, the timing for Broadway’s revival of Ragtime seems just right.
Director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge has found just the right blend of the issues, sights, sounds and movement for one very enjoyable night at the theater. It’s lovely to hear the Flattery score with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and classics like “New Music,” “Your Daddy’s Son” and “The Wheels of a Dream” sung by such excellent voices.
Christiane Noll is Mother, who puts up with Father (Ron Bohmer) who goes off on explorations, leaving her to cope alone with her son (an very winsome Christopher Cox) and an African-American baby abandoned in her garden. She cares for the baby as well as his mother, Sarah (Stephanie Umoh). Sarah’s lover, Coalhouse Walker, Jr (a delightfully smooth-voiced Quentin Earl Darrington) finds her and plans a new life for them as a family, but Terrence McNally’s book, based on the E.L. Doctorow novel, is not all song and dance.
Sarah dies and Walker turns to crime when prejudice blocks his quests for justice for her murder. Mother’s brother (Bobby Steggert) joins his cause as well. Meanwhile, a recent immigrant, Tateh (Robert Petkoff) ekes out a living to support himself and his daughter (Sarah Rosenthal) selling silhouettes, then finds success as a director of animated pictures. All of the lives intertwine and affect each other.
The production is grand (applause greets the opening curtain which reveals the gaily attired cast on the three-story set) , with small changes transforming McLane’s functional steel frame into all of the locales, including a home, an immigrant tenement neighborhood and the boardwalk at Atlantic City. Walker’s automobile and the piano he plays also are formed of matching steel-frame design and excellent sound design by Acme Sound Partners makes it sound like the tunes really are coming from the interior-less piano (and makes lifelike the cries coming from the doll used for Sarah’s baby, although it amusingly never seems to grow despite the passage of time).
Some other things feel less real too. Supporting roles for vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit (Savannah Wise) and escape artist Harry Houdini (Jonathan Hammond) are hammy and are forced. Noll, though she sings like an angel, goes through the motions and doesn’t exude the spark we expect from crusading Mother. The best cameos, on the other hand, come from Donna Migliaccio as union activist Emma Goldman and the little tyke who plays Coalhouse Walker III (the role is shared by Jayden Brockington and Kylil Christopher Williams) who’s so cute, you just want to run up on the stage and hug him.
Overall, Ragtime is a satisfying journey to days gone by and hope for the present. Catch it at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street, NYC. For tickets call (212) 307-4100. Special discounted group tickets that support Masterwork Productions are available here. Make sure the religious charity you support is Masterworks.
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