BWW Review: RAGTIME at Musical Theater Heritage
"Ragtime" at Musical Theatre Heritage is more than just a great show. It has harnessed extraordinary power to move its audience and remind us of the idea that is America.
The genius of MTH's "Ragtime" is how it deconstructs a fifty-seven character, massive, important, landmark, musical theater work and reassembles it so that sixteen actors can exponentially project on the power of the original. Nothing is lost. If anything, the original is built upon. And all this happens on a tiny thrust stage in front of a visible seven piece orchestra and three hundred audience members.
If the American Musical Theatre can approach grand opera, this is it. "Ragtime" envelopes its audience.
Credit must be shared between Musical Director Daniel A. Doss, Scenic Designer Jack Magaw, Lighting Director Rachael Cady, Sound Designer Jon Robinson, Costumer Georgianna Londre Buchanan, and Choreographer Marc Wayne. Ringmaster to this cacophony of sound and action is Kat Jackson.
The vision and the skill to assemble this cast and team belongs to Director Tim Scott. "Ragtime" is obviously personal to Tim. A part of his family lived this story. He saw a preview performance with the original cast production and it stayed with him.
"Ragtime" tells the story of immigrants who arrived at America at different points in time and by different means. Each made this place their own. All struggled, achieved a level of success, and hesitated to share that success with the next arriving group on American shores. It is a story that continues even today.
In 1906 "Ragtime," we see four groups. Colonial era immigrants have moved on from the mean streets to settle comfortably in suburban New Rochelle. They own the means of production and feel entitled. A second wave has washed ashore from Ireland. They work in the factories and as civil servants. They want to feel superior over whoever they can. African-Americans are beginning to rise from a slavery many can still remember. Jews from parts of the Russian empire have fled pogroms and poverty just ahead of those who would wipe them from history.
"Ragtime" shows us how these disparate groups came into contact with each other, struggled, fought, sometimes died, and endured. The original 1975 historical novel by E.L. Doctorow imagines archetypes and inserts actual historical figures to illuminate his based on fact narrative
The MTH cast of "Ragtime" is extraordinary. It is tough to single out lead performances because the consolidation of characters has made each performer integral to the success of the whole. The vocal skills displayed by each member of this cast are off the charts. The illustrative dance is more than one might hope to see. It is always surprising and additive. Each move from each cast member completes.
The New Rochelle group is led by the glorious Lauren Braton as "Mother." Her character is among the most developed. "Father" is Tom Nelson. Noah Lindquist is "Mother's Younger Brother." Mike Ott is "Grandfather." Donovan Kirk is child son to "Mother and Father."
The African-American group is represented by the exceptional Kiarri Andrews as Coalhouse Walker Jr., the ethereal Allison Jones as Sarah, and Genesis Olivia Weekes as their little son. They enjoy some of the most haunting melodies. Coalhouse shares the unforgettable show closer "Let them hear you."
The most recent immigrants are the evocative Cody Proctor as Tateh and Chloe Hochanadel and his daughter.
Historical personages are Shelby Floyd as a strong Emma Goldman, Willis Green as a dynamic Booker T. Washington, Kayli Jamison as a lovely Evelyn Nesbit, and T. Eric Morris as an illusion of Harry Houdini. Enjoli Gavin, Robert Vardiman, and Marc Wayne complete the ensemble. Several of the principals are double cast.
This is a production you should not miss as we approach an upcoming political season. "Ragtime" continues at Musical Theater Heritage inside Crown Center through October 27. Tickets will be available online at www.MTHKC.com or by telephone at 816-221-6987.
Photos courtesy of Musical Theater Heritage and Brian Paulette