BWW Review: CenterPoint Warmly Honors the Magnificence of RAGTIME

BWW Review: CenterPoint Warmly Honors the Magnificence of RAGTIMELet the new day dawn / Oh, Lord, I pray / We'll never get to heaven / Till we reach that day

RAGTIME is one of a small handful of lovely musicals I will see every chance I get. With soaring vocals and impressive stagecraft, the CenterPoint production warmly honors this modern-day classic.

The Tony-winning musical targets racism, anti-immigration bigotry and poverty, and sadly those ills plague us today. And we are encouraged to speak out: "Go out and tell our story / Let it echo far and wide / How justice was our battle / and how justice was denied / Make them hear you."

Disparate stories weave in and out of each other during the first decade of the 20th century. Like the novel that is its source, the musical -- with Terrence McNally's book, Stephen Flaherty's music and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens -- illustrates the massive social changes America was undergoing.

Producers shy from frequently producing RAGTIME with its demands of period costumes of distinct classes and a set indicating multiple locations. CenterPoint impresses.

Huge sets and scenery can overpower the songs' power. Set designer Ron Nelson takes a different route. There are a few helpful projections and limited mobile set pieces to suggest locations. But the splendor of these deceptively simple set pieces is not evident until they intertwine symbolically with main characters' hearts. Tammis Boam's varied costumes are richly detailed and character descriptive.

RAGTIME also requires several strong leads, with its primary story of three different families: an affluent white family, a Jewish immigrant family and an African-American family. The performances and the rich vocals are also a source of pride in this staging.

Four actors standout for their excellence: Jared Haddock and Angie Call (Father and Mother), Raven Flowers (Sarah) and a wonderfully sounding Nneka Barcelona as the funeral soloist.

RAGTIME takes flight through the vision of first-time CenterPoint Director Emily Wadley, a Bountiful High School drama instructor. But the emotional depth of many characters is truly lackluster. And there are missteps. The pacing slows during the dialogue sections, and there are odd choices: cardboard puppets during "The Crime of the Century" and Little Brother handing out costume pieces during "Prologue."

Credit to the strength of the staging seems solely to Marilyn Montgomery, who shows her cherished choreography abilities; here setting dances to the performers' capabilities and keeping the stage alive with vivid movement. Thanks also to music direction by Derek Myler.

The power of RAGTIME speaks directly to contemporary problems. And we're reminded of the possibility of a brighter future.

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From This Author Blair Howell

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