BWW Review: RAGTIME at Peninsula Community Theatre

BWW Review: RAGTIME at Peninsula Community Theatre
Photo by Mike Diana

The Hampton Roads theatre scene is bursting with talent, and some of it is on display in Peninsula Community Theatre's enjoyable production of RAGTIME. The production follows three distinct societal classes in New York at the turn of the 20th century. Exploring themes of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant bias and radicalism, RAGTIME is just as relevant to today's America as with the stories featured in PCT's production.

Acclaimed playwright Terrance McNally adapted RAGTIME from E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel bearing the same name, but it's Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' lengthy and sweeping score that makes RAGTIME such a powerful work of theatre.

At the outset of the production, the audience is introduced to a privileged family from New Rochelle, a Jewish immigrant community, and an African American community. Their stories carefully weave together fictive encounters with historical figures such as Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Stanford White, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan-all this in the ambitious opening number.

BWW Review: RAGTIME at Peninsula Community Theatre
Photo by Mike Diana

Hampton Roads newcomer Marty Bussert is at the helm of PCT's production. While he draws out strong performances from some of the principal performers; the production, at times, suffers as a result of his heavy hand. Note: During "Coalhouse Demands," guns (props) are unnecessarily pointed at the audience.

Under Betsy Forrest's tight musical direction, the cast of nearly 40 effortlessly tackles the vocally demanding score. Dana Marguiles Cauthen's choreography distinguishes the various classes and adds contrast to the action onstage. Jason Marten's hulking two-story set adds much-needed space to the compressed stage and provides some breathing room for the sizeable cast. Lisa Neun's costume design brings realism the production. More abundant onstage lighting and fewer and softer spotlight moments could improve Jared Alexander's lighting design.

The ensemble shines in larger numbers such as "Prologue: Ragtime," "New Music," and "Till We Reach That Day," which features an attention-grabbing riff from Del Fionn Sykes. Standouts include Rachel Bradley and Olivia Thomas as Emma Goldman and Evelyn Nesbit.

RAGTIME features some fantastic voices, starting with Laura Maney as Mother. Maney shines in every musical number, but gives an especially authentic and memorable performance in "Back to Before." Stephen Maney's powerful baritenor voice stands out in larger ensemble numbers such as the prologue. "The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square" is one of many great moments because of Maney.

Kaleeha Clark is noteworthy as Sarah, and delivers a heartbreaking rendition of "Your Daddy's Son." Coalhouse Walker Jr. is the most vocally demanding role in the show, and Rico Robinson gives a fine performance. The galvanizing "Wheels of a Dream" is every bit the chill-inducing showstopper it should be because of the blend of their voices.

BWW Review: RAGTIME at Peninsula Community Theatre
Photo by Mike Diana

The most complete performance comes from Jeff Nicoloff who completely disappears into his role to convey the story of Jewish immigrant Tateh. His accent sounds authentic and his vocals soar. "Success" and the optimistic "Our Children," featuring Nicoloff and Laura Maney, are highlights of this production.

RAGTIME is a grand undertaking for a community theatre. With powerful ensemble numbers and numerous standout performances, PCT's production mostly succeeds. The show runs through August 19. Tickets can be purchased through www.pctlive.org.


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