Oscar E Moore

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Award winning RAGTIME at Astoria Performing Arts Center

February 6th, 2009 by Oscar E Moore

In a converted gymnasium, in the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, in Astoria Queens – yes you read right – Astoria Queens – just over the 59th Street Bridge – a full scale, first class production of the Tony Award winning musical RAGTIME running through February 22nd – Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens has just opened.  I strongly suggest you get to see it any way you can – by car or by subway.  Even if you have to walk, it would be worth it.  What an incredible achievement.  It’s a triumph on every level.

RAGTIME is not an intimate show – although masterful director Tom Wojtunik has made it so in the small space with a thrust stage and seating on three sides of the playing area.  It has a large cast with three powerful interwoven story lines – there is the WASP family from New Rochelle, the artistic Jewish immigrant and the black pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. – who created a new music called “ragtime”.

It is an ambitious undertaking for any theatrical company.  Excellent singers and believable actors are a must.  It covers a period of time in United States history when everything was in flux.  Change was wanted and change was immanent.  It was a boom for some and a bust for others.  But hope was everywhere.  Themes that resonate strongly today.

Why did I want to go to Astoria to cover this show?  Curiosity.  I was curious to see what APAC could offer in presenting such a daunting and difficult show as RAGTIME.  Also, I grew up in Astoria which had never been a hot spot for theatrical activity.   Well APAC is going to change all that.  If their production of RAGTIME is any indication of the level of their artistry, and I am sure that it is, they will put Astoria on equal footing with Manhattan.

Praise must first go to the creators of the show.  The intelligent and moving lyrics of Lynn Ahrens.  The fantastic music of Stephen Flaherty and the concise and beautifully structured book by Terrence McNally.  Next the APAC creative team.  The intriguing shadow box set by Michael P. Kramer suits the action perfectly.  The lighting by Travis Walker is exceptional as are the period costumes by David Withrow.  The quartet of off stage musicians add immeasurably to the production as does the choreography of Ryan Kasprzak.  Director Tom Wojtunik’s staging is inventive and inspired.  His use of the space is incredible and at times we are surrounded by the lush voices of the cast.  He has given his actors wonderful insight into their characters and each person has picked it up and delivered one hundred percent.  I am pleased to report that every single person in the cast of 26 is a pleasure to behold and to hear.  They are truly an ensemble.

So how can there be standouts?  Well, let’s put it this way – some actors have moments that are written into the script and if they fly with those moments they will stand out without distracting from the ensemble.  So my favorite moments:  “Crime of the Century” with Stacie Bono, “Your Daddy’s Son” Janine Ayn Romano, “Wheels of a Dream” D. William Hughes and Janine Ayn Romano, “Back to Before” Anna Lise Jensen, “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc” Mark Gerrard and “Till We Reach That Day” Marcie Henderson.  Ensemble highlights:  “Getting’ Ready Rag” and “What a Game!”  And of course, the rousing opening number,”Ragtime”.

I cannot tell you how impressed and pleased I was to return to the land of my youth.  To be moved and entertained by a troupe of so many creative and talented people.  The Astoria Performing Arts Center has created something magical and memorable.  Go.

www.apacny.org  Tickets $15.00   Thurs. Fri. Sat. Sun. 866 811 4111

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