If there is only one show that you can see on Broadway this season Ragtime is it. It is a magnificent production that was first produced at the John. F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and luckily and thankfully has been transferred to the Neil Simon Theatre for what should be an extremely long run. But theatre being theatre I wouldn’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. And that is to buy a bunch of tickets to see one of the best musicals ever written. You are guaranteed a great time.
I did not see the original 1998 production which supposedly was overproduced and cold and running up against The Lion King. Despite an all star cast it floundered along -winning, however, four Tony Awards but losing out for Best Musical. I did see a concert version at the White Plains Performing Arts Center which was terrific and then last February a very stream lined inventive and inspired version at The Astoria Performing Arts Center.
This scaled down but revved up Ragtime has everything going for it. A tightly written book by Terrence McNally that ties together all of the themes, characters and three major story lines based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow with an economy of dialogue and a roller coaster ride of rapidly switching emotional gears. The beautiful score by Lynn Ahrens (Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music) which ranges from the simplicity of “Our Children” to the inspirational “The Wheels of a Dream” to the comedic “What A Game!” to the touching “Sarah Brown Eyes” to the heartbreaking “Your Daddy’s Son” to the jumping “Getting Ready Rag. And has there ever been a better opening number written for a musical than the title song “Ragtime”? It’s a brilliantly written, moving, melodic and entertaining score.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge has done a masterful job in keeping the musical moving along at a tidy clip with her insightful direction and exuberant choreography on the skeletal three-tiered industrial looking unit set by Derek McLane. The incredibly varied lighting effects by Donald Holder seamlessly set the different mood swings and locations immediately. But it is the cast that shines above all else. What a glittering array of talented singers and actors.
As Coalhouse Walker Jr. the man who created this “new music” called ragtime, Quentin Earl Darrington is headed for stardom with his commanding presence, magnetic personality and booming voice. His scenes with Sarah, beautifully sung by Stephanie Umoh are electrifying. They have a wonderful loving relationship that gnaws at our hearts.
As the bigoted Father, Ron Bohmer makes a hateful man seem almost human. Mother, a radiant Christine Noll brings to life the inner strength needed to overcome her restricted life which begins to blossoms when she meets Tateh (Robert Petkoff) the Jewish immigrant who cuts silhouettes which results in him becoming an Americanized moving picture director. Mother’s Younger Brother, who seethes with anger and frustration until he finally explodes, is given a full bodied performance by the dynamic Bobby Steggert. The Little Boy (Christopher Cox) almost steals the show with his bright and plucky portrayal.
Other standouts are Jonathan Hammond as Harry Houdini making an unforgettable entrance, Savannah Wise as showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, Eric Jordan Young as the idealistic yet forceful Booker T. Washington, the powerful Donna Migliaccio as the rebellious Emma Goldman, Mark Aldrich as the racist fireman Willie Conklin and Dan Manning as Grandfather who gets all his laughs in the right placesGo see Ragtime immediately and revel in all its glory.