Review: RAGTIME at JCC Centerstage Theatre

Don't miss this epic tale of worlds colliding in early 20th century New York City, playing until May 21st.

By: May. 08, 2023
Review: RAGTIME at JCC Centerstage Theatre

"Ragtime" is an incredibly ambitious undertaking for any theatre company, regardless of its size or resources. It features a large and diverse cast, the content is provocative and at times quite shocking, and the music is immense and lush, necessitating a large orchestra and performers with near-operatic vocal capabilities. All these are the likely reasons why you don't see "Ragtime" brought to the stage tremendously often; why undertake the complicated story about turn-of-the-century race relations when "Guys & Dolls" or "Music Man" make for bouncier fare? Why try and cast a show of 20+ performers of different ages and races when you can do "Evita" or "Godspell" with a fraction of the headcount? More timid theatre companies may have reached for the lower hanging fruit, but Rochester's JCC Centerstage Theatre never shies from a challenge, and the gamble paid off in this epic and well-executed tale of worlds colliding in early 20th century New York City.

From StageAgent: "Ragtime is a compelling epic capturing the American experience at the turn of the 20th century. Tracking three diverse families in pursuit of the American dream in the volatile melting pot of New York, Ragtime confronts the dialectic contradictions inherent in American reality: experiences of racial hierarchy, wealth disparity, and inclusive society. Over the course of the show, the worlds of a wealthy white couple (Abby Rice and Jordan Bachmann), a Jewish immigrant father (Danny Hoskins) and his motherless daughter (Quinn Kenyon), and an African American ragtime musician (J. Simmons) intertwine. Together, they discover the surprising interconnections of the human heart, the limitations of justice and the unsettling consequences when dreams are permanently deferred."

JCC's production of "Ragtime" is brimming with talent, featuring newcomers as well as faces that will be very familiar to Rochester theatregoers. Bachmann and Rice give thoughtful and impassioned performances as Father and Mother, respectively, sitting atop the elite socialite class of the world "Ragtime" creates. Bryce's Sarah is a powerhouse, particularly on "Your Daddy's Son", a searing and emotional solo. Hoskins' Tateh is an authentic blend of fiery father and terrified immigrant struggling to survive. And commanding the stage and serving as the center of gravity is Simmons' Coalhouse, a character of complexity and shifting morals that Simmons plays superbly. At various times throughout the production Coalhouse is tender, intimate, violent, unhinged, joyful, and despondent, and also carries the show with big vocal numbers and intricate fight choreography. Simmons is the perfect man for the job.

From a playwriting perspective, "Ragtime" is probably not Terrence McNally's high-water mark, a sentiment that was shared by critics at the time of its Broadway debut and at various times during its many iterations and revivals over the years on Broadway and the West End. McNally shoehorns in a lot of ancillary characters that help paint the historical backdrop (Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P Morgan, etc.) but that, narratively, just sort of float about and don't serve a central purpose to the storytelling, which at times burdens "Ragtime" with a lot of sentimental baggage that it ultimately doesn't need to deliver the main themes of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair.

JCC's production of "Ragtime" is broad and sweeping, bringing together a rich tapestry of Rochester talent to tell a moving story about the ever-fleeting American dream. It's playing until May 21st (tickets are selling fast!), for tickets and more information Click Here.

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From This Author - Colin Fleming-Stumpf

Colin Fleming-Stumpf is a lover of all things theatre and performing arts. A native of Rochester, Colin has acted on stages across Western New York and is active in the local theatre community as a pe... (read more about this author)


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