DC THEATRE SCENE
A deeply moving Ragtime at Ford’s Theatre (review)
March 17, 2017 by Susan Galbraith 5 Comments
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Ford’s has given us a magnificent and deeply moving musical about where we’ve come from, featuring, as its main character, America. The superbly attuned ensemble announces with full emotional authority that the stakes are high to resolve who we are as a people. As the character Coalhouse Walker Jr. and then the whole ensemble sing, we must hold up our banner and roll on “on the wheels of a dream.”
There is something especially powerful, even sacred, to experience the work in the theatre where the ghost of Abraham Lincoln is surely gazing down from his box with us.
Ragtime is based on E.L. Doctorow’s powerful book about immigrants and the fight for the American soul in the first two decades of the twentieth century. Written forty-two years ago, the story’s perspective seems spot-on relevant. Its issues of race, class, gender equality, and political clashing are very alive today, and the challenge to change and work together to create a more just and equitable society is still America’s ongoing experiment.
Members of the cast of the musical Ragtime at Ford’s Theatre (Photo: Carol Rosegg)
In Washington, Terrence McNally rules! This past month I have seen two superb staged productions that have held the mirror up to American society – Washington National Opera’s Dead Man Walking and now Ragtime – and both libretto and book are by McNally. The contemporaneity of his chosen themes in such charged times makes for a theatrical experience that fairly crackles with excitement.
Before the start of Ford’s show, performers prepare themselves on stage, signaling this will be a shared story-telling event. (They will do yeoman’s work in the show’s two hours and forty-five minutes, changing characters and costumes multiple times, moving scenery, and serving as both background characters and witnesses to the scenes.)
There is an enormous three-story scaffold upstage, holding, on its second floor and in full view, a nine-person orchestra, including its superb leader Christopher Youstra featured as conductor, and on keyboards, and accordion. This tiered event, terrifically conceived by Scenic Designer Milagros Ponce de León, serves to depict in fluid fashion, aided by the masterful projections by Clint Allen, tenements in New York, a balustrade at a graceful home in New Rochelle, a ship on its way to the North Pole, a turn-of-the-century New Jersey beach resort, and a symbolic economic pyramid introducing characters by economic class and social status.
The first number is a marvel of musical invention. Starting with Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Kevin McAllister) at the piano tinkling the keys, characters introduce themselves in song until it builds into a twenty-four part number setting time and place and identifying familiar historical characters featured in the work: Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Stanford White, Henry Ford, and at the top-of-the-food-chain, banker J.P. Morgan.
Henry Baratz (Little Boy), Tracy Lynn Olivera (Mother) and James Konicek (Father) in the Ford’s Theatre production of Ragtime (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Rui Rita’s lights capture exquisitely the memory of a softer, gentler world (for some!) as they bathe the white patriarch’s family of Father (James Konicek,) Mother (Tracy Lynn Olivera,) and Younger Brother (Gregory Maheu) in a golden glow. Their story about how such privileged folk needed an awakening to change is traced throughout the show. To the audience’s rueful merriment, the narrators sang of this era, “There were no negroes. There were no immigrants.”
As J.P. Morgan tells it, from the set’s top tier, this was an America where “all men are born equal, but the cream must rise to the top.” And if there were any question to that, the media was always there to distract us with juicy gossip and celebrity entertainment by the likes of the Evelyn Nesbit (Justine “Icy” Moral,) a delightful girl on the velvet swing (“Whoopee!”) and magician-contortionist Houdini (Christopher Mueller.)
Kevin McAllister talks about Ragtime
There’s a duet of farewell between Father and Mother, where Olivera delivers a touching send-off to her husband, “Goodbye, My Love” who is going off to the North Pole with Admiral Perry.
Metal staircases to the major structure swing apart and then are rolled past each other, ships passing in the night. The one ship delivers immigrants, lots of them. The din grows as contrasting melodies in multiple languages are sung. “Journey On,” sing Father, Mother and a newly arrived Latvian Immigrant Tateh, and for each of them it means so different a thing.
(l-r) Elan Zafir, Felicia Curry, Justine “Icy” Moral, Eben K. Logan and Stephen F. Schmidt in the Ford’s Theatre production of Ragtime (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Michael Bobbitt’s choreography has never been so gorgeously integrated into the story telling, and the dancer-singer-actors are terrific not only in their technical prowess but in their delivery of distinct cultural styles of expression.
And that’s just the first scene where three numbers melt seamlessly one into another.
Jonathan Atkinson plays Tateh, a convincing portrayal of the highs and lows of a fresh immigrant. Through the course of the evening, Atkinson makes us feel for him when his American dream of opportunity fades then finally gets reinvented. His character moves between cocky humor to fear and despair and then he returns, a self-made man full of hope, generosity, and even self-deprecation. Lyricist Lynn Ahrens, whose words speak for all who make up America, seems to have had a special affinity for Tateh.
The scenes change as fast as cinematic cuts. Up in Harlem at The Tempo Club where friends gather to appreciate music, dance, and help each other get through, Coalhouse is the man they come to hear. The room lights up when he gives them the “Getting’ Ready Rag.” Can anyone doubt listening to his rag and watching these dancers explode in exuberant response to the music that our country is uniquely built on the rhythms and cultural richness of African-Americans?
The music shifts to help pull through another thread of the story in the tapestry as a ragtime tune pushes into metal banging on metal, and suddenly we’re transported to a factory assembly line. That would be Mr. Henry Ford’s factory. It’s music is America’s favorite sound, it would seem, ka-ching, ka-ching.
Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton in the Ford’s Theatre production of Ragtime (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
I for one love how this musical doesn’t follow just one person’s narrative and how so many characters get their chance in the sun. Director Peter Flynn has made the complicated and layered story crystal clear and has helped the characters to be differentiated, while Music Director Youstra has created a beautiful blended sound – ah, that’s America! Together they have wrought a gorgeous and moving ensemble. Every scene is so fleshed out and truthful, that, even knowing the story, I got lost as if I were watching a forever “now” moment only to be taken by surprise by what happened in the next scene.
Above all, the show is an ensemble endeavor. However, there are certain standout moments and performances. McAllister’s rich baritone is the real deal, and his performance alone is worth the price of this show. He crafts every line of every song, massaging and drawing out gorgeous interpretations from Stephen Flaherty’s musical compositions. His jovial confidence and dignity gives way to serious courtship of Sarah and then his deep pride and responsibility suddenly seeing his son. By the time he and Nova Y. Payton as the mother of his son sing “The Wheels of a Dream,” I’m in tears.
The show then turns to darkness, anger and sorrow, but McAllister’s performance never waivers, and his emotional truth is searing.
Tracy Lynn Olivera has become one of Washington’s top singer-actresses. She is splendid here. By the time she delivers “Back to Before,” I thought people might erupt out of their seats in a standing ovation. Her voice is placed well in every register and true, and her acting draws us in by her honesty.
Rayanne Gonzales as Emma Goldman in the Ford’s Theatre production of Ragtime (Photo by Carol Rosegg)
Rayanne Gonzales makes a strong impression with her fiery Emma Goldman. Jefferson A. Russell as Booker T. Washington exudes dignity and righteousness and is on stage too little. Henry Baratz is a smart and appealing young actor and gets some of the best lines in the show.
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Gregory Maheu has one of the longest arcs in the play from a feckless goon fawning after Evelyn Nesbit to one who is incited to take a stand against injustice and prejudice. James Konicek as Father embraces his role of least honorable character (patronizing husband, absent father, and passive racist as he is) and yet he makes us listen to his fears and his confounding astonishment at the world changing around him, and ultimately we feel for him. Felicia Curry demonstrates she’s a dynamite dancer but also leads a deeply moving song of grief at another black life lost at the end of the first act.
Yes, the work confronts some dark sides of our American character including abuse of women and racist-driven violence. These actors surely take us into the shame, rage, and deep sorrow as we confront these issues anew.
But there is nothing turgidly polemic about the show. One of my favorite scenes was the baseball game, where the same characters, seemingly who wanted to shun and even kill the others, were sitting on bleachers up against each other, singing, jawing and spitting in true manly bonding. The humor was a welcome respite. There is also a highly choreographed number in the silly swim costumes of the period which is as riotously funny as Les Ballets Trocadero.
The joy of this show is how beautifully it moved and how the ensemble worked together to deliver every moment.
What does it say about us artists that sometimes our best work comes when we are confronted with our biggest and most severe challenges? And what should we do? I believed the Ragtime performers have taken to heart with every fiber of their being the last number, “Make them hear you.”
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You are here: Review: ‘Ragtime’ at Ford’s Theatre
Review: ‘Ragtime’ at Ford’s Theatre
by David Siegel on March 16, 2017
Glorious! Dazzling! Verve! Bursting at the seams with voices and stories of America’s humanity and originating dreams.
The cast of ‘Ragtime.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.
These are the words I felt as Ragtime, now at Ford’s Theatre, unfolded before me. And it all began with the show’s opening; a full-company production number in which 24 voices, 48 feet, nine musicians, and an upright piano were smoothly synchronized.
This Ford’s incarnation of the often-produced Ragtime has a palpable, robust personality. Under Peter Flynn’s lucid direction Ragtime is full of heart and optimism, sorrow, and anger, with humor dished out as well, that is stunningly sung and deeply conveyed by a remarkable cast of local; yes local, DC area talent.
As directed by Flynn, I got what I had hoped for walking into Ford’s Theatre from a cold winter night. I didn’t want subtlety. I wanted something deeper; I got that and more.
With a nine-member orchestra performing about 30 musical numbers, Ford’s Theatre was full of ragtime syncopation and other musical motifs that blew the winter cold out of me. Christopher Youstra was music director and vocal arranger with orchestration by Kim Schamberg. Michael Bobbitt had his charges moving in harmony through energetic choreography and quick time movements, keeping the production full of visual momentum. Whether the dances were sensual swaying and sashaying, or take-offs of more geometric, less voluptuous “old world” dances. Bobbitt finds ways to give a visual essence to the production.
What Ford’s Ragtime truly has is oodles of humanity. The cast, all 24 of them, in parts big and small, made me feel real sentiments as they sang and dance to soulful ballads or popping full-company numbers composed by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahens. With a book by Terrence McNally, jeez, how could anyone who has a beating heart and even a hint of decency in them not be in awe of what can be done by creative artists.
Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
If you are unfamiliar with the theater musical version of Ragtime, originally produced in 1996 (opening not long after U.S. President Bill Clinton won his second term); it is based upon the award-winning 1975 book, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. As in the book, the musical broadly interweaves stories of three groups of Americans at the turn of the 20th century; not long before the Great War ensnarled America. The three groups are African-Americans represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; a white, upper-class family with Mother and Father living in the suburbs of New Rochelle, NY, and newly-arrived Jewish immigrants focusing on one particular father named Tateh and his young motherless daughter.
As Coalhouse Walker Jr., Kevin McAllister is a haunting, “don’t mess with me” presence. Whether in speaking or singing his deep resonant baritone voice cut through me and made me sit up straight. His rectitude singing “Make Them Hear You” rings out for notice and justice. I would have followed him. Nova V. Payton as Sarah, Coalhouse’s love interest, (My God, what a voice!). Whether hurt or happy in her role as Sarah, Payton gives an honest performance. In her ballad “Your Daddy’s Son,” she moved me. In their sweet duet about a future in America, “The Wheels of a Dream,” and what might have been, “Sarah Brown Eyes,” well, they were beautifully authentic.
Henry Baratz, Tracy Lynn Olivera, and James Konicek. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Tracy Lynn Olivera as Mother, is a “Wow!” not only with her nuanced performance as a woman with a heart that finds a way to come out, but also with her delivery of her Act I and Act II book-end songs, Act I’s “What Kind of Mother” and Act II’s “Back to Before” provided emotional resonance for her arc from a homebody to a woman fully committed to herself and the new America. And her voice is heavenly.
James Konicek as Father plays his stiff, less-than-affectionate WASPY character as a man unwilling to kiss his wife on the lips until way too late or shake hands with Coalhouse. His slow trajectory to some enlightenment does come. Mother’s younger brother, nicely portrayed with some shadings by Gregory Maheu, has a trajectory from a boyish man ogling a flashy woman, to someone willing to put his life on the line for a bigger cause. Not so unlikely then or now.
Dulcie Pham and Jonathan Atkinson. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Jonathan Atkinson’s Jewish immigrant father, Tateh, is a bundle of Old Country dialect with jumpy, never-stand-still verve to his mannerisms and speaking style. Always protective of his young daughter; trying to decipher how to survive as a street entrepreneur. The chance meeting that give his meaning may be a little too deux-machina, but so what. Atkinson’s voice has authority to it as a man with no sure answers, but a sure tongue, as we hear in “Gliding,” and the beautiful and hopeful “Our Children” sung with Olivera.
And then there are the visits from various real people of the early 20th Century who provided pop when they appeared. To name those who left stronger impression there are Rayanne Gonzales as firebrand Emma Goldman, John Leslie Wolf as Henry Ford (aside, my parents told me never buy a Ford vehicle since Ford was a major anti-Semite), Jefferson A. Russell as a compliant obsequious “Look What You’ve Done” Booker T. Washington, and Justine “Icy” Moral who plays the real short-time celeb Evelyn Nisbet with a delightfully high pitched “Wheeee!”
Ford’s Ragtime has many first-rate technical design elements all making the tight Ford’s stage area look lavish. Milagros Ponce de León’s deceptive-looking, open skeletal design is a 3 story set design as a movable feast. It anchors the show, yet is open to any number of permutations. Rul Rita’s lighting is alive and gorgeous, pin-pointing and shading the entire company or duets and solos. Period costumes from Wade Laboissonniere are spot-on. Projections by way of Clint Allen come to life as the pages of moving picture books we flipped through as children. Nice touch.
Director Peter Flynn’s vision for Ragtime is a joy of emphasized humanity delivered by golden voices who lived and breathed their songs and each and every lyric.
I once remember reading a comment that tagged Ragtime as a “long, secular revival meeting.” Well, I for one was happy to sit in at this particular revival meeting. Right now, especially. This revival meeting, has open emotions, plenty of deep-throated anthems singing, and dialogue of an America that now seems so distant a dream.
So, yes Ragtime had emotionally involved me from the get-go. Let me mix a little Shakespeare to my comment, and hopefully not too over-the-top. Let me call Ford’s Ragtime, an unlikely equivalent to Henry V’s magnificent, rousing “Once more onto the breach” speech to get his troops ready to take on what seemed impossible…to change the world..
Ford’s Theatre’s astounding Ragtime is the event of this theatre season. Don’t miss it!
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
‘Ragtime’ sings with purpose at Ford’s Theatre
By Nelson Pressley Theater critic March 16
Kevin McAllister plays piano as Coalhouse Walker Jr., with the cast of the musical “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre. (Carol Rosegg)
“Make them hear you,” goes the climactic chorus in the musical “Ragtime,” and the new production at Ford’s Theatre stirringly delivers on the kaleidoscopic show’s cries for justice. The setting is 1906, but the issues ring true throughout the 1998 musical’s crusading score.
Racial strife? Check, as the ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. — played by a splendid Kevin McAllister, whose sunny disposition gradually turns to cold fury — refuses to give in as white supremacists trash his shiny Model T.
Immigration friction? Check, as the European Jew named Tateh (an anxiety-riddled Jonathan Atkinson) struggles to sell his handcrafted silhouette art on the streets of New York to support his young daughter. (The immigration angle felt particularly acute during Wednesday’s opening as President Trump’s controversial ban was in court again.)
Whites resentful at the surge of change? Check, as the generically named Father (a superbly baffled James Konicek) lamely clings to old ideas of order, while the wide-eyed Mother (the radiant Tracy Lynn Olivera) searchingly leads the forward-thinking tune “New Music.”
Far from being old hat, “Ragtime” may need to reappear in Washington with each new administration. “The country is experiencing an acutely stressful testing of both its resolve and its way of doing business,” Peter Marks wrote of the April 2009 Kennedy Center version that quickly transferred to Broadway, adding, “A musical tracing the nation’s core values strikes an even more resonant chord.”
As its cast of two dozen swarms up and down a three-story set layered with class implications, Peter Flynn’s production utilizes the full volume of the large Ford’s stage to capture the immensity of the show and its themes. Henry Ford (John Leslie Wolf) stands on the top level of Milagros Ponce de León’s verdigris-colored scaffold structure, a corporate colossus lording it over the rabble. The socialist-anarchist Emma Goldman (Rayanne Gonzales) gets wheeled around on one of two tall mobile-stair units, inciting a combustible crowd with her fiery rhetoric.
Musically, too, this “Ragtime” comes at you with a wallop. Music director Christopher Youstra’s nine-piece orchestra occupies the set’s second level, pumping out lilting piano-clarinet-trombone ragtime melodies that often escalate to mighty anthems. The Stephen Flaherty score (with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) ripples with lovely, soft colors humanizing the characters, yet — and here’s the nagging mark against the show, and against the megamusical epoch it comes from — it also has a tendency to strain for epic effect. Flynn’s production trips on this weakness too often, especially early on. The incessant bustle and full-throated choral approach can wear you out.
[WaPo profile of Flaherty and Ahrens]
It truly hits goosebump territory, though, when McAllister’s patient, debonair Coalhouse finally gets through to the elusive mother of his baby, Sarah. As Sarah descends from the attic where Mother has taken her in (while Father is away, of course), Nova Y. Payton joins McAllister for a duet that gives the evening its first thrilling moment. Payton, the recent centerpiece of “Caroline, or Change” at Round House Theatre, easily handles Sarah’s big brooding song to her baby, “Your Daddy’s Son,” and she partners touchingly with McAllister’s beaming Coalhouse.
Tracy Lynn Olivera, Henry Baratz, Dulcie Pham and Jonathan Atkinson in “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre. (Carol Rosegg)
Big stories in the entertainment world as they break.
Ford’s keeps demonstrating a knack for putting local actors into the right big roles, and as a composed, powerful Coalhouse, McAllister emerges as the soul of the show. His rich baritone is equal to the jaunty “Gettin’ Ready Rag,” the sweetness of “Sarah Brown Eyes” and the soaring tragic notes the dismal plot heaps on Coalhouse. Olivera, too, carries on from the rewarding leading work she did last year at Ford’s in “110 in the Shade” (alongside a fine McAllister). As the evolving Mother, she appealingly embodies the grace of the story, bringing exceptional thought to the power ballad “Back to Before.”
This “Ragtime” doesn’t yet have the consistent, steady confidence that Marcia Milgrom Dodge achieved with her Kennedy Center version; it takes a while for the vibrant characters of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel to become genuinely reflective as circumstances change. Little things tend to get steamrolled: the comically foul ballpark language of “What a Game,” for instance, in which the spittin’, swearin’ punchlines (subverting Father’s nostalgic hope for an innocent day out with his young son) get lost in the hectic ensemble performance.
Yet Doctorow’s gripping plot, efficiently adapted by playwright Terrence McNally, still does its work. The crisis Coalhouse sets in motion with his righteous vigilante movement generates plenty of suspense as the show crests to a violent climax. Likewise, this production’s virtues end up substantially outweighing its flaws. McAllister binds it, and the swelling choral odes at the end of both acts are irresistible as the tense three-part weave of blacks and whites and immigrants — each group sharply costumed with subtle but noticeable team colors by Wade Laboissonierre — vividly dramatizes the country’s ever-hopeful, still unsettled story.
BWW Review: RAGTIME at Ford’s Theatre is Rapturous
by Charles Shubow Mar. 21, 2017
BWW Review: RAGTIME at Ford’s Theatre is Rapturous
If you go to see RAGTIME at the historic Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC., the mega musical by the Tony-winning composing team of Lynn Ahrens (Lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (Music) with the book by Terrence McNally (based on the novel by E.L.Doctorow), one has to thank the Canadian impresario Garth H. Drabinsky. This was his dream which first opened in Toronto in September, 1996, and opened on Broadway January 18, 1998. Drabinsky did everything “big”. I remember being invited to an event in Washington, DC for Tour Group Leaders. He brought down members of the Broadway cast, gave out promotional CDs and RAGTIME key rings.
He rebuilt two Broadway theaters for RAGTIME combining them into the gorgeous Ford Center for the Performing Arts (now the Lyric Theatre) using the historical parts of the two theaters, had a historic $11 million production which included a Model T. Ford than actually ran. (What a coincidence it’s now at the historic Ford’s in DC.) The Tony Awards in 1998 went to RAGTIME for Best Book, Best Score, Best Orchestrations, and to Audra McDonald for Best Featured Actress. So naturally, one would think it would have won for Best Musical except for a small show literally across the street, THE LION KING, which won the honor. I still think RAGTIME was robbed.
I truly love this show and RAGTIME in its current rendition is under the very capable hands of Director Peter Flynn who has made it known that he wanted a production filled with actors from the Baltimore/Washington area. And when you see this impeccable masterpiece you will be astonished at the talent we have in this area. The acting, the singing, the dancing is just plain spectacular. Add to this the capable and imaginative designers, Michael Bobbitt (Choreography), Milagros Ponce de Leon (Scenic Design), Wade Laboissonniere (Costume Design), Rui Rita (Lighting Design), David Budries (Sound Design), Clint Allen (Projection Design), and Anne Nesmith (Hair and Make-Up Design) and you have a winning team.
The talented Christopher Youstra (Music Director and Vocal Arranger) leads a superb orchestra located on level two of the three level erector set which features movable staircases. Most of the musicians wear straw hats to keep in the dress of 1902 where the events take place. Youstra sometimes joins the cast with his accordion. They are a talented group: Victor Simonson (Keyboard II), Lee Lachman (Reeds), Fred Irby III (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Joe Jackson (Trombone), Andrea Vercoe (Violin), Yusef Chisholm (Bass/Tuba), Gerry Kunkel (Guitar/Banjo), and Danny Villanueva (Drums/Percussion). Special kudos to Kim Scharnberg who did the marvelous orchestrations.
The original Broadway cast had an All-Star cast: Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Marin Mazzie, Peter Friedman, and Mark Jacoby. This cast is no less All-Star!!! They are all simply incredible.
The show tells the story of three families: a well-to-do upper White family from New Rochelle where “Father” makes patriotic memorabilia and fireworks, his wife “Mother”, her younger brother, little boy, and Grandfather: James Konicek, Tracy Lynn Olivera, Gregory Maheu, Henry Baratz (shared with Holden Browne) and Christopher Bloch.
Leading the Jewish immigrants hailing from Latvia is Tateh and his young daughter: Jonathan Atkinson and Kylee Gerace (shared with Dulcie Pham).
The show centers on pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and his love Sarah played by Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton.
You will see a plethora of historical figures of the era including Emma Goldman (Rayanne Gonzales), the “girl on the swing” Evelyn Nesbit (Justine “Icy” Moral), Harry Houdini ( Christopher Mueller), Booker T. Washington (Jefferson A. Russell), Harry K. Thaw and Admiral Perry (Stephen F. Schmidt), Henry Ford (John Leslie Wolfe), and Stanford White (Elan Zafir), the famous architect of Penn Station which is currently the subject of a possible renovation back to its original glory.
The talented ensemble is made up of Maria Egler, Eben K. Logan, Sean-Maurice Lynch, Ines Nassara, Rayshun LaMarr Purfoy, Karen Vincent, and Tobias Young.
Young Coalhouse Walker III is shared between Mya King-Aamdar (with Rubin B. Singleton IV).
The show opens with the three different ethnic groups telling their own stories. “Father” talks about life where there are “no Negros and no immigrants”. He heads off with Admiral Perry to discover the North Pole and when he is introduced to an African-American explorer Mathew Henson, he refuses to shake Henson’s hand. Henson by the way hails from Maryland and has both a middle school in Charles County and an elementary school in Baltimore named for him.
The Jewish immigrant Tateh is overprotective of his daughter and sometimes has her tied to him with a rope scared of her being kidnapped. He hopes to make a living make silhouettes out of paper and will later become a film director. Wait till you see the wonderful projections of Clint Allen of his silhouettes. (I highly recommend the CD which has silhouettes on the cover).
The African-American experience focuses on a Harlem ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. He is so successful he owns a Model T Ford. His girlfriend Sarah and his child end up in New Rochelle, NY and his loving relationship with Sarah takes a sad turn at the end of Act I. What occurs there is the major focus of the musical. Coalhouse’s personality changes drastically from a loving musician to one who seeks revenge for actions taken against him and Sarah.
There are so many side stories that I do not want to ruin the surprise.
I just loved the baseball inspired number at the Polo Grounds “What a Game” joining other musicals like DAMN YANKEES, FALSETTOS, and even DEAR EVAN HANSON that have songs that deal with baseball.
There are so many wonderful and memorable melodies from ballads “Wheels of a Dream” by the gorgeous baritone of McAllister and the heart-warming Payton, to the lovely duet “Our Children” by Atkinson and Olivera, to the anthem-like “He Wanted to Say” by Gonzales, to the moving “Till We Reach That Day” by Curry, to the ragtime inspired “Gettin’ Ready Rag”, and finally “Make Them Hear You” by McAllister.
This is just plain remarkable from top to bottom.
I must admit it was different to watch “Wheels of a Dream” seeing the show in Washington, DC after eight years of the Obama administration.
Notice at the end of the performance the cast is in modern dress as if stating the problems of 1902 are still with us today.
The theater offers the following:
RAGTIME Meet and Mingle: April 15 following the 7:30 p.m. performance.
RAGTIME Under 35 Night April 21 and May 19 following the 7:30 performance when there are discounted tickets and enjoy complimentary beer or wine after the show. Tickets must be purchased in advance at http://www.fords.org using promo code UNDER35. One must show ID at the box office once arriving at the theatre. Limit of six per person.
Interfaith Night: may 2 at 7:30 p.m. Following the performance there will be discussion about the roles of faith and music in the stories explored in RAGTIME. Special $25 tickets are available through the Group Sales office. Email email@example.com or call 800-899-2367 for information.
RAGTIME runs until May 20, 2017. For tickets call 888-616-0270 or visit http://www.fords.org. Do not miss it.
Photo Credit: Carol Rosegg
BWW Review: RAGTIME at Ford’s Theatre
by Heather Nadolny Mar. 16, 2017
BWW Review: RAGTIME at Ford’s Theatre
A widowed immigrant heads to America with ill-fated hope of welcome and success. An educated black musician seeks forgiveness from his lost love and justice for crimes against his family. A wealthy, sheltered woman finds her bubbled world changing with the local climate.
We have heard stories along these lines countless times over the past several months, and the Ford’s Theatre timely production of RAGTIME hits all of their painful, resonant themes across multiple notes. DC audiences, this is the show we need right now.
Set in the early 1900’s, RAGTIME, written by Terrence McNally with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, constructs multiple stories of social justice, false freedom and what the American dream can become. Using complex, exhaustive music and a plethora of heart wrenching, full volume songs, RAGTIME shows three families each falling apart as the nation and its industry and culture continue to build.
The story unfolds in a slightly disjointed, non-linear fashion, shifting to its main characters sporadically as they all intertwine. Numbers like “What a Game”, “Crime of the Century” and “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc” give much needed breathers amidst gut punch numbers like “Back to Before” and “Your Daddy’s Son”.
Scenic Designer Milagros Ponce De Léon’s multi-level set creates a vision of class difference and American industrialism. As those below them in status or knowledge scrape by, figureheads like Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington and JP Morgan speak from above, heightening the immense distance between them. It’s a visually interesting set, even if it occasionally constricts the view of those performing on it.
Director Peter Flynn keeps his cast and the show constantly moving. In a trend I’m noticing across several DC theatres, actors mill about in the background even if not in the scene, as if to observe or show a constant presence. The scaffolding also serves as a screen, displaying snow, small films or intense fire. The costumed band performs from the second level, which, while it looks interesting, at times felt oppressive in volume.
BWW Review: RAGTIME at Ford’s TheatreWhat a cast this is. Reprising the role that earned him a Helen Hayes award, Kevin McAllister gives his whole heart and energy as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Nova Y. Payton, fresh off the successful CAROLINE, OR CHANGE at Round House Theatre, delivers a beautiful, sweet innocence as the shy, questioning Sarah. You instantly love her, and I will happily watch the both of them in as many productions as are possible.
Jonathan Atkinson’s emotional journey as Tateh is well demonstrated, and he is engaging to watch even as part of the background action. His voice is a force, and his character’s determination pulls at all the emotions this current political climate has evoked. Felicia Curry’s performance in “Til We Reach that Day” soared from the start, stealing the stage.
There were times when everything felt a bit loud. Accents occasionally dipped, and the ending, which included cast members in modern clothes, didn’t necessarily all pull together for me. That being said, I definitely recommend seeing RAGTIME. It will engage you, it will hopefully motivate you, and it will open your eyes to perspectives across multiple types of people, both of the present and the past.
As the show finished, the cast came together, and the final notes were belted with all of what they had left, one thing was very clear. There was passion, there was fear, and somewhere in there, there was the projected hope that maybe, someday, the themes won’t have to be illustrated as necessarily as now.
RAGTME continues at Ford’s Theatre through May 20th. For more information on the show or to purchase tickets, visit the production page. The runtime is about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg
MD Theatre Guide
Theatre Review: ‘Ragtime’ at Ford’s Theatre
Posted By: Liz Ruth-Brinegaron: March 17, 2017 Print Email
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(left to right) Elan Zafir, Felicia Curry, Justine “Icy” Moral, Eben K. Logan and Stephen F. Schmidt in the musical “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre, directed by Peter Flynn. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Phenomenal music, singing, and acting make up the top-notch production of “Ragtime” now playing at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., which I attended on March 15, 2017.
The powerful vocal performances and acting will stay in your soul long after you leave the theatre.
The play tells the story of three families in 1920’s America: one family African-American, one family Jewish immigrants from Europe, and one family wealthy and white. Their stories slowly intertwine throughout the course of the play although they appear unrelated at first.
Mother bids Father farewell as he leaves on another trip around the world, this time to the North Pole, but he’s barely gone before she discovers a baby buried in her garden.
I was truly impressed with the production quality and the acting and vocal talents of the entire cast. Kevin McAllister, who played Coalhouse, drew me in with his voice from the very beginning of the play. He could sing with a silky smooth tenor and then in later scenes plunge into a strong lower range in songs like “The Wheels of A Dream.” Coalhouse is a ragtime pianist and McAllister perfectly mimicked the piano parts of the score on the upright piano that was often in center stage to the point where I sometimes questioned if he was actually playing!
Coalhouse’s wife Sarah was played with distinction by Nova Y. Payton who had a hauntingly beautiful singing voice. Her solo in “Your Daddy’s Son” had shimmering soprano notes and gave me chills, especially when she contrasted her high range with the raw pain she put into her delivery of the lower notes in this mournful song. Sarah is featured as a singing angelic vision later in the play and how completely appropriate for such an amazing vocal talent!
The role of Mother featured another stunning vocalist in Tracy Lynn Olivera. She had a deep and rich contralto voice and her solo “Back to Before” was another highlight of the show. I enjoyed seeing Olivera portray dithery desperation at the beginning of the play without her husband’s advice and then transform into an assertive force by the final scenes.
Jonathan Atkinson played the fourth lead of Tateh and I enjoyed his exquisite vocals from his first song “Journey On” to his transformation into Baron Ashkenazy, singing with Mother in Atlantic City. Atkinson displayed a wide range of emotion throughout the show, from fiery fierce anger at injustices to tender devotion to his daughter.
I also enjoyed Justine “Icy” Moral’s performance as the flirty vaudevillian Evelyn Nesbit and Felicia Curry as Sarah’s Friend singing “Till We Reach That Day.” Christopher Mueller as Harry Houdini, James Konicek as Father, and Gregory Maheu as Younger Brother were also notable performances, but truly every actor delivered an outstanding performance.
Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, the music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens were quite engaging; in fact, I am still humming many of the tunes! I did find many of the lyrics compelling, especially in light of today’s political climate. Lines like “every road a new dead-end” felt impactful in a sharply relevant way.
The orchestra led by Christopher Youstra, which was really a small jazz ensemble rather than a classical pit orchestra, did a fantastic job swingin’ away on the deliciously jazzy score and it was fun to see them elevated on the metal framework above the stage so that they were a focus of the performance.
Overall, I highly recommend “Ragtime” at Ford’s Theatre. The powerful vocal performances and acting will stay in your soul long after you leave the theatre.
“Ragtime” charts a safe journey through tumultuous American history
By André Hereford on March 30, 2017
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Ragtime — Photo: Carol Rosegg
It’s a musical. It’s a concert. It’s an Americana-themed theatrical event. It’s Ragtime, a late twentieth-century blockbuster about turn-of-the-century American history that critics declared stiff, and a lot worse, when it first debuted. Despite its Hall of Presidents renditions of several complicated, larger-than-life historical figures, it went on to garner a bevy of fans and four Tonys, including Best Original Musical Score.
Ford’s Theatre’s new production, directed by Peter Flynn, shows the 20-year old musical to be a capable workhorse that won’t necessarily set minds and hearts racing, but is sure to please. Flynn steers the titanic song machine towards an incisive, relevant interpretation, while contending with a book by notable playwright Terrence McNally (Love! Valour! Compassion!) that reduces E.L. Doctorow’s expansive novel to a CliffsNotes reading of an epic.
Fortunately, Ragtime (★★★½) boasts some great songs by composer Stephen Flaherty (Once on This Island) and lyricist Lynn Ahrens (Rocky the Musical) — like comic charmer “Crime of the Century” and heartbreaking ballad, “Your Daddy’s Son” — that deserve to be standards. Best for the sweeping score, this production has assembled generations of talented performers, including a swinging nine-piece band led on keyboards and accordion by music director Christopher Youstra. It gives life to Doctorow’s interconnected stories about three fictional families, each one representative of a distinct American experience circa 1900.
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Exploring what it meant at the time to be Negro and struggling, or white and affluent, or an Eastern European Jew recently arrived in the U.S., the show poignantly reflects the different factions’ similar, or contradictory, ideas of America in ways that still resonate.
A large part of the show’s success derives from the wonderful chemistry between Jonathan Atkinson’s silky-voiced immigrant artist Tateh and Tracy Lynn Olivera as Mother of a moneyed New Rochelle family. Atkinson brings ample swagger and likability to his role, lending freshness to an Old World character. Though, for pure showmanship, practically no one onstage rivals Christopher Mueller’s amusing Harry Houdini. The other players portraying Ragtime‘s period celebrities register, to varying degrees, fully across the amusement spectrum, from Jefferson A. Russell’s uninspired Booker T. Washington, to a truly rousing performance by Rayanne Gonzales as anarchist Emma Goldman.
Ragtime — Photo: Carol Rosegg
Kevin McAllister as smitten (fictional) musician Coalhouse Walker and Nova Y. Payton as Sarah thoroughly convince as star-crossed lovers. However, though Payton sings the ever-lovin’ blues out of ballad “Your Daddy’s Son,” neither the script nor her somewhat tame performance offer clear enough insight to answer the deeper questions posed about Sarah in Mother’s moving song “What Kind of Woman.”
Backing up the performances, every aspect of stagecraft — from the lighting and sound design to the hair and makeup — resonates as soundly as the subject matter. Wade Laboissonniere’s costumes are especially ravishing, and do a fantastic job of identifying each character with their respective tribe and milieu — a quality beautifully complemented by Michael Bobbitt’s peppy choreography.
Peppy or not, the show drags a little, weighed down by a concert-style tendency to bring soloists front and center to belt to the house, rather than to any other character onstage. And a few of the songs advance the simple plot in only the tiniest baby steps. A richly satisfying and well-acted moment between Sarah and Coalhouse is barely allowed a second to steep in that earned emotion before another, too-similar song rolls in and diminishes the moment.
The utilitarian, multi-leveled set does help keep things moving, via little more than shifts in lighting and staircases, from a huge suburban house in New Rochelle, to famed explorer Admiral Peary’s ship bound for the North Pole, and several far-flung locations in between. However, no amount of reshuffled scaffolding is able to sell this show’s version of a Harlem juke joint, which feels more like a spin around a sock-hop than a peek inside a bawdy nightclub filled with those brothers and sisters that the play’s Booker T. Washington disses as leading “less than impeccable lives.”
Of course, Ragtime — and perhaps any big-budget musical featuring a cast and crew the size of a small army — can’t afford to be too grown-up in its sensibilities. Notwithstanding a few flagrant racial epithets, this glossy survey of gritty realities skirts stirring up much offense. The political statements land with a soft touch, though the show’s portrayal of brutal conflicts related to immigration and race, such as the shooting of an unarmed innocent soul, still feel utterly and powerfully topical. Maybe Ragtime is one show this divided nation might agree to enjoy together.
Ragtime runs until May 20 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth St. NW. Tickets are $18 to $64. Call 888-616-0270, or visit fords.org.