BWW Review: RAGTIME the Performances are Incredible
RAGTIME with Tony Awards® for Best Book and Best Musical Score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, this 13 time Tony Award® nominated musical is a timeless celebration of life. Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Playing now at Knight Theater at Levine Center for The Arts, November 30-December 3. 2015. Tickets are available at 704-372-1000 and BlumenthalArts.org.
I was told that RAGTIME is a great musical. After seeing this show, I have to say RAGTIME is the best acted musical I have ever seen.
The first thing I noticed was the piano, it was not real, just a wooden outline. Despite this, the piano player deceived me. Everything in his body conveyed that he was playing a real instrument. The first song of the show was an introduction with a small history lesson, in case we weren't familiar with the well-known characters, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan. They are introduced through this number. I love Henry Ford, even if he is presented in a less than positive way. This number is beautifully choreographed. I noticed the sharp distinctions between the upper middle class in their Sunday best and the poor immigrants and blacks. Not only is each group's movements and body language different, but their costumes are defined to make it easy to see who was who without going overboard with different colors and patterns; something easy to fall into when designing for this type of segregation.
Most songs with multiple main characters were written with intricate patterns of singing dialogue and vastly different layering of vocals. From a music perspective, it is difficult to blend and have all three parts to be perfectly harmoniously audible. Every song that was written in this complex manor is performed by incredible talent.
Director and Choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, brings a realism to RAGTIME that I have never seen before in musicals. The performances are powerful. Sarah, played by Leslie Jackson, sang Your Daddy's Son amazingly. For most performers, singing and crying don't work, yet Jackson holds notes with brilliance while tears fall down her face. Every nuance that she feels is raw and not feigned. And this scene does not stand alone in terms of great acting, very real performances are given throughout this entire production. Chris Sams, who plays Coalhouse Walker Jr., rolls out a commanding performance luring the audience in and Donald Coggin does a fantastic job with his character, Younger Brother. He is his character, so much so, that he's a man with just a few quirks.
The different settings in this show are displayed in creative ways. Whether it's a textile mill, assembly line or car, each set is created in such a way that it shows action while still complementing the actors. Recognition goes to the talent of Scenic Designer, Kevin Depinet and Lighting Designer, Mike Baldassari.
I thought I'd hear a vastly different music as the show progressed, but there were only subtle changes. At first, I questioned it, but then I realized that the time range of the storyline was about ten years. The music's transformation would be in-fact subtle.
RAGTIME, set in the early 1900's, shows a level of racism, yet, because it is set in a time of transition there are different outlooks on race with a mixture of different points of view. The script shows the conflict in a realistic and thoughtful way. There is never a point in the show where a racist character is just "racist," often times, characters who are racist are conflicted, which shows in their verbal and body language cues.
This musical brings you through several subplots that work together to make RAGTIME what it is, a multilayered rich story. The relationships between parents and children, girlfriend and boyfriend, and friend and friend are genuine and not forced in any way. RAGTIME shows the American dream, immigrants coming in while people already here are trying to survive. This story still goes on. RAGTIME is a musical you must see!