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BWW Reviews: Kentwood Players Stage Melodically Rousing RAGTIME

Ragtime/book by Terrence McNally/music by Stephen Flaherty; lyrics by Lynn Ahrens/based on the book Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow/directed by Susan Goldman Weisbarth/Kentwood Players at the Westchester Theatre/through April 20

Since its creation in 1997, Ragtime has remained one of my favorite musicals for two reasons. Its simply gorgeous almost opera-like musical score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens moves me to the bone, and it has more meaningful historical content about America at the turn of the 20th century than just about any other show. Now via an excellent production by the Kentwood Players, Ragtime continues its deeply moving effect on audiences.

There is a lot of history and music to fit into the 3 hour show, and this was one of the original problems the creators faced in making all the elements of the story work smoothly. Some numbers had to be cut, like one very entertaining turn by the actor playing Harry Houdini (here Drew Fitzsimmons). Thank goodness for Evelyn Nesbitt (Amanda Majkrzak), and that the girl on the swing's number "Crime of the Century" is in tact because of its entertainment value as well as its tongue-in-cheek dubious appraisal of crime does not pay. This is a big musical in scope and often difficult to stage in a normal sized space, but director Susan Goldman Weisbarth and choreographer Victoria Miller have worked wonders to get 47 actors in place for various choral scenarios, like the opening, Sarah's funeral scene and finale. The staging of "What a Game" is razor sharp and carried out with tremendous exuberance and skill.

The cast are wonderful, and most sing well with a few exceptions. Standouts are Jennifer Sperry as Mother, Ruth Andrea Featherstone as Sarah's friend - would like to have heard more from her, Bradley Miller as Tateh - a wonderfully full and passionate performance - and Joanna Churgin as the unflinchingly determined pioneer Emma Goldman. Deus Xavier Scott strikes an appealing presence as Coalhouse, Darryl Maximilian Robinson a tower of strength as Booker T. Washington and Majkrzak is all frivolity as Nesbitt. Gorgeous red costume! The entire chorus sing beautifully together under musical director Bill Wolfe's expertise.

Some of the more memorable tunes include: Mother's "Back to Before" - for me, the crowning song of the show, conveying the true meaning of change, "New Music" - stunning!..., "Wheels of a Dream", "Gliding", "Our Children", "Sarah Brown Eyes", "He Wanted to Say", and "Make Them Hear You", all musically rich and loaded with guts and glory.

Jim Crawford's set design is basic but works ingeniously throughout with various changes of set pieces and props, and costumes by the dream team of Maria Cohen, Sheridan Cole Crawford and Jayne Hamil are divinely gorgeous.

Bravo to Kentwood Players for this fine effort. Ragtime is a great musical and should be seen and savored by one and all, young and old.

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From This Author Don Grigware