BWW Review: RAGTIME at Stagecrafters Values History Within Inspired Storytelling
"Journey On" with Stagecrafters' current production of Ragtime, playing at Royal Oak's Baldwin Theatre until October 6th. Since premiering in Toronto in 1996 and opening on Broadway in 1998, Ragtime has received several worldwide productions, becoming an absolute phenomenon. While it's a relatively recent musical with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahren respectively (the duo behind Anastasia and Once On This Island), it truly feels like a Golden-age musical.
In short, Ragtime details the lives of several people in 1906 New York. That said, there are three in particular who get the most focus: Tateh, a Latvian-Jewish immigrant; Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem-based musician; and Mother, an upper class housewife from New Rochelle. While I initially assumed the story was about their three separate lives, this show is really all about how their stories intersect in surprising ways, despite their very different backgrounds. It's a marvel to watch this overarching story unfold right in front of you.
My favorite aspect of Stagecrafters' production were the actors, naturally. Not only did they all encompass their roles so well, but their voices were just out of this world. My three favorites were Dez Walker (Coalhouse Walker Jr.), Kaela Green (Sarah), and Sara Rydzewski (Mother).
I remembered Green from Stagecrafters' recent production of If/Then, and I remember thinking during just how much I wanted to see her in a show where she could show off her vocals even more. She's found that show. You can especially look forward to her signature song, "Your Daddy's Son."
After interviewing Dez Walker and grasping his deep love for the role of Coalhouse, I had high expectations for his interpretation of this character. He met, and even smashed, my expectations. His emotion is palpable throughout the audience - when he cries, the audience cries. When he's longing, the audience feels that same longing. You completely sympathize with his situation because his emotions feel so authentic. My personal favorite songs of his were ones he sang with Green, particularly "Wheels of a Dream" and "Sarah Brown Eyes."
As for the role of Mother, I was hoping that Stagecrafters would cast someone who could truly honor the late Marin Mazzie, who originated the role on Broadway. Mother is the glue who held the characters together, which makes it an especially important role. I truly believe that Rydzewski would've done Mazzie proud. She especially shined with her eleven o'clock number, "Back to Before," which earned her lengthy applause from the audience.
Stagecrafters' production of Ragtime is one of the best they've ever done. I'd rank it up their with their productions of Dreamgirls and In The Heights, which are just a few of my all-time favorites of theirs. The overall production quality was spectacular, and as you can tell from my words above the talent in this show is otherworldly.
One of my favorite production aspects from Ragtime was the large screen in the back that broadcast vintage pictures of people, scenes, and places from a hundred years ago. It really helped bring history to the forefront, something especially significant in a show like this.
Ragtime tells an all-too-relevant tale that everyone should go see at least once. Not only is it a great musical, but it's a perfect lesson in how to treat people (and how not to treat people) who don't look like you. I think everyone could use a little more of that in their life.
Ragtime runs on Stagecrafters' Baldwin Theatre in Royal Oak until October 6th. For more information and tickets, visit www.stagecrafters.org.