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Review: RAGTIME at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

TheatreWorks re-mounting of Tony-winning Ragtime

Review: RAGTIME at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

Ragtime

Book by Terrence McNally

Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow

Music by Stephen Flaherty

Lyrics Lynn Ahrens

Directed by Robert Kelley

TheatreWorks Silicon Valley

One need only look to today's tragic headlines to see how TheatreWorks' stunning production of Ragtime mirrors its themes of racial discrimination, police violence, class divisions and immigrant challenges. Seems turn of the century America, masterfully imagined by Director Robert Kelley, is remarkably similar to its contemporary image and is the reason this musical resonates so powerfully with audiences.

Following the paths of three diverse groups; African Americans struggling with equality and injustices, privileged upper-class whites and Jewish immigrants from Latvia searching for the American Dream, Tony-winning Terrence Mc Nally's book and Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens lovely score create an expansive universal diorama of hope, anger, impending change and desires.

Review: RAGTIME at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Mother (Christine Dwyer) bids her husband farewell as he departs on an expedition

You won't find a more accomplished musical cast anywhere, stocked full of Broadway talents like Christine Dwyer (Wicked) as Mother, Leo Ash Evens (School of Rock, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Tateh, Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker (Hair, Miss Saigon), Rodney Earl Jackson Jr. (Book of Mormon) as Matthew Henson, and Suzanne Grodner (Beautiful, Bye Bye Birdie) as Emma Goldman. The entire ensemble shines vocally backed by the always solid musical direction of William Liberatore and his Ragtime Orchestra.

The three social groups path's intertwine as they work through their individual struggles. Mother is dissatisfied with her docile existence and her racist husband (Noel Anthony), and her younger brother (Sean Okuniewicz) becomes radicalized to fight racial injustice. Coalhouse, a brilliant pianist loses the love of his life Sarah (Iris Beaumier) to racial violence and meets a tragic ending by police violence. His son will be taken care of by Mother. Tateh's dreams of finding the American pot of gold are initially dashed, but he eventually finds success and love.

Review: RAGTIME at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Sarah (Iris Beaumier) and Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Nkrumah Gatling) dream of a better life for their son

The Tony-winning score successfully includes ballads, ragtime and Jewish mezmer influences. The sensational opening number sets the tone of the score which includes the lovely "What Kind of Mother", "The Getting Ready Rag" and "Wheels of a Dream". The story inventively weaves in popular historical figures of the time including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, J.P. Morgan, and Emma Goldman. They are there to represent the radical changes occurring at the time and their effects on the characters transformations.

Review: RAGTIME at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
People of Harlem (l to r: Leslie Ivy, Michael Gene Sullivan, Nkrumah Gatling, Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., and Iris Beaumier) are enchanted by ragtime piano tunes

Kelley had planned this production as part of his swan song as Artistic Director pre-pandemic. He gets to realize his vision once again (he directed a previous 2002 production) in a pared down version showcasing the music and extraordinary ensemble. The technical crew has focused the attention perfectly; B. Modern's fabulous costumes, choreography by Gerry McIntyre, scenic design by Wilson Chin (the wash hanging on lines was a brilliant touch) and the bright lighting provided by Pamila Z. Gray. It all comes together wonderfully in this sweeping and poignant portrait of the melting pot that is America.

Ragtime runs through June 26th, 2022. Tickets can be purchased online at theatreworks.org or by calling 877-662-8978.

Photo Credits: Kevin Berne



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