BWW Reviews: RAGTIME Explodes with Passion in Oklahoma City's The Poteet Theatre
The Poteet Theatre (Oklahoma City, OK) presents Ragtime, the Tony award-winning musical by composer/lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Shawna Linck masterfully directs the cast of 85 performers. The talent in this show is so encompassing, I often times am asked where does Poteet find this kind of talent. I love telling patrons the talent they are seeing are all from Oklahoma City. With the exception of little brother the entire cast of Ragtime is local. Within 10 minutes of starting the production, it is apparent the next three hours of this show will be incredible.
As the production begins, this musical's cast of performers makes their introductions and we are thrown into the melting-pot story to come. I've seen this production 3 separate times and the introduction can be confusing, however, director Shawna Linck's choreography and staging is crisp, clean and understandable. It was evident the three groups in society are fighting for their own space in this country as the societal boundaries were beginning to crumble around them.
We begin with the rigid, wealthy, white dressed people from New Rochelle, NY as they leisurely stand in their picture perfect world living their day in and day out cookie cutter lives. They are soon joined by the loose, rowdy, group of Harlem African Americans, dancing in their earth tones singing with wreck less abandon and soul. Finally, enter the darkly dressed immigrants as they try to find a way to fit into a world they do not recognize. As will be continually true in Poteet's version of Ragtime, Linck's staging in the opening sequence sets up the many themes explored by this cast as we journey on through the lives of these turn of the century characters.
The music of Ragtime soars through the theatre as the cast many times surrounds the audience. With the excellent musical direction from Tim Wall, the cast beautifully delivers the musical weaving that holds this story together. The set, designed by director Linck is innovative and functional as they continually morph from location to location. With help from the beautiful projections by Illum Productions, it's like watching a gateway to the many worlds of Ragtime. Kristy Johnson's costumes are incredible as well as historical and never once do you feel any item of clothing is out of place. She keeps you grounded in this story with her stunning costume design. Designer Andrew Himes executes the lighting and tech with finesse.
This show is a relevant musical journey and Linck and her brilliant cast make every minute count. There are so many moments in the show that left me weeping. At the end of act 1, I had to sit quietly for a few moments as I allowed my emotions to flood over. However, there are many scenes, which give some hilarious comic relief. One scene in particular is the baseball game. The reactions of Father (Jason Bias) to his son (Sam Markmiller and Jacob Livesay) allow you moments to laugh out loud.
This show weaves many historical figures throughout the story. The fantastic Harry Houdini (Alex Prather) delivers mystery and some truly unexplainable magical moments throughout. Emma Goldman (Luciana Maia) is subtle but passionate as she helps set the tone of the American immigrant. The fantastic, and beautiful Evelyn Nesbit (Madison Audrey) is a diamond in this backdrop of tension. Madison, a recent grad of AMDA (American Musical and Dramatic Academy) in New York City and an Oklahoma City native, delivers her performance with grace and poise while allowing us to catch a glimpse of the real and broken Nesbit.
The weight of the director's visions is carried through the seven main characters at the core of this story. Isaiah Bailey embodies Coalhouse as the ragtime-playing father awaiting the arrival of a new era. Heath Chaney, also a recent AMDA grad who came to Oklahoma just to play younger brother, captures the idealistic nature of this young man. Nakeisha McGee will literally lift you out of your seat as she sings from her soul the longing for a better life for herself, her child and the love of her life, Coalhouse. Jason Bias delivers father with maturity beyond his years and captivates this character in a way where I finally understood him.
Finally, there are simply magnificent performances from Charlie Monnot, as the warm and playful, yet driven immigrant, Tateh and Ashten Wellman as the white, privileged mother who watches the world she knew quickly slip into the past. As I watched Monnot play father to young girl (Nolia Sweatt & Reese Freund), I found myself truly believing she is his flesh and blood. Wellman is both beautiful and endearing as she navigates the journey mother must take in the timeframe of this show. Finally, the seventh is the giant ensemble of this show. They are a force of sheer passion and heart. Their even execution of music, choreography, set moving, and crowd work are the breathtaking framework used by the lead characters to breath life into the story.