Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of RAGTIME at Arden Theatre Company?
Ragtime recently opened at Arden Theatre Company and critics were in attendance. Find out what they had to say!
Old City, Philadelphia opens their 2019-20 season with the winner of the 1998 Tony Awards for Best Score, Book and Orchestrations, RAGTIME. Written by the award-winning composer/lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (Once on This Island, Seussical and Lucky Stiff), noted playwright Terrence McNally, and based on E.L. Doctorow's distinguished novel, RAGTIME plays the F. Otto Haas Stage from September 19 through October 20, 2019. Called "a triumph for the stage" by TIME Magazine and "the best musical in twenty years" by the International Herald Tribune, RAGTIME tells the story of three distinct Americans - an upper-class wife, a Jewish immigrant, and a daring Harlem musician - united by their courage, compassion and hope in the future. Together, they confront freedom, prejudice, despair, joy, and what it means to be American.
The Arden Theatre production, staged by Artistic Director Terry Nolen, features a cast that includes Alex Bechtel as Henry Ford, Rachel Camp as Evelyn Nesbit, Kim Carson as Mother, Quinn Cason as Coalhouse Follower, Derrick Cobey as Booker T. Washington, Jamison Foreman as Harry Houdini, Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Scott Greer as Willie Conklin, Cooper Grodin as Tateh, Robi Hager as Younger Brother, Jim Hogan as Father, Jessica Johnson as Sarah's Friend, Nicholas Pontrelli as Harlem Man, Terran Scott as Sarah, Mary Tuomanen as Emma Goldman, Donovan Bazemore as Coalhouse Walker III, Lily Lexer as Little Girl, and Colin Rivell as Little Boy. Prices start at $18. For more information, visit ardentheatre.org
Alyssa Biederman, BroadwayWorld: As always, the Arden's cast is spectacular. I often found myself getting goosebumps at the impeccable performance of harmonies written into the score. Nkrumah Gatling (Coalhouse Walker Jr.) is a standout voice with powerful vocal chops that makes it impossible not to listen to his characters' plight.
Julia M. Klein, The Philadelphia Inquirer: There's a neat irony in Nolen's stripped-down staging: Frank Galati, director of the original over-the-top Ragtime, was one of Nolen's professors at Northwestern University, and Nolen says, in a director's note, he had long avoided producing the show because it seemed "too large; too sweeping a story for our stage."
Cameron Kelsall, BroadStreetReview: The large ensemble sings uniformly well, although the musical balances were not ideal on opening night. The F. Otto Haas Stage has been reconfigured in the round for this production, with members of the orchestra occupying risers on every side of the auditorium. This made it difficult to ascertain where a certain instrument was coming from, much less to create a unified sound. At times, the chorus sang directly into my ear when they stood on a platform right behind my seat; when they moved to the other side of the auditorium, the aural distance might have been a mile away.
Amanda VanNostrand, The Theatre Guide: Although the cast certainly makes this show great, the setup that Arden has provided is fantastic. With set design by James Kronzer, the audience enjoys a view of the stage in circular form. With elevated seats circulating the entirety of the stage, all members of the audience receive a great view and experience. The ceiling is also open, so lighting design (Thom Weaver) plays an important role. And while the audience is seated in a circle, an added bonus is the music (sound design by Elizabeth Atkinson), which is played live in various places throughout the theatre (including the stage!). Although set design is extremely simple, the audience is never at a loss for where and when the characters are, and the simplicity allows for focus to remain on the characters. (Critics of RAGTIME criticized the elaborate set design while it was on Broadway in the 90s, so one may consider that the simplistic set is an improvement from earlier performances in New York!)
Anne Marie Scalies, Philly Life and Culture: The impeccable cast delivers on nearly every note. Kim Carson's portrayal of Mother accentuates the leadership of the household at every turn. Colin Rivel plays Little Boy, Mother's son, who I just recently saw play the same role at The Eagle Theatre is just as marvelous. For such a young actor, he has quite the comic timing. Playing Jewish immigrant Tateh is Arden newcomer Cooper Grodin. Grodin tugs at your heartstrings with his brooding demeanor and masterful paternal chemistry with Lily Lexer who plays Little Girl. Arden regular, Rachel Camp, creates such a unique portrayal of Evelyn Nesbit that was such a pleasant surprise. Every time she bellowed a "Weeeeeeee!" the audience was able to take a breath from the powerful storyline and rest in for more of what's to come. Moreso, she was able to transition into every other ensemble role she played with esteem. Jim Hogan's character, Father, gave us a little bit of hope. He gave heart to his portrayal more than I have seen from any other production. Fiery Emma Goldman was played by Mary Tuomanen who although small in stature is a powerhouse.