Review Roundup: RAGTIME At Asolo Rep

Asolo Rep continues its 2017-18 season with the celebrated American musical RAGTIME. Directed by Peter Rothstein, founding artistic director of Theater Latté Da in Minneapolis, RAGTIME features a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, who all garnered Tony Awards for the production. The original Broadway production was directed by Frank Galati, who received a Tony nomination for his work and is an Associate Artist at Asolo Rep. A collaboration with Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, RAGTIME is currently on stage through May 27 in the Mertz Theatre, located in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts.

RAGTIME masterfully chronicles three different societal groups at the dawn of the 20th century in New York - an affluent white family, an African American family and an immigrant Jewish family - whose lives are forever changed when their very different worlds collide. Featuring one of the most revered scores of all time, director Peter Rothstein has artfully stripped down this originally massive production to reveal its surprisingly intimate core. RAGTIME remains a poetic and pertinent reflection on America's melting pot and the power of empathy despite seemingly insurmountable differences.

The creative team also includes choreographer Kelli Foster Warder, scenic designer Michael Hoover, costume designer Trevor Bowen, sound designer Justin Stasiw, and music director Steve Orich (Tony nomination: Jersey Boys), who will provide additional orchestrations. Orich orchestrated the world premieres of Beatsville (2017) and Josephine (2016) at Asolo Rep.

Now in its 59th season, Asolo Repertory Theatre is recognized as one of the premier professional theatres in America and one of the largest in the Southeastern United States. One of the few select theatres in the nation that performs in true rotating repertory, Asolo Rep's highly skilled acting company and extensive craftsmanship bring to life this unique performance method that gives audiences the opportunity to see multiple productions in the span of a few days. Asolo Rep presents up to 10 productions each season including contemporary and classic works and provocative musical theatre experiences. A theatre district in and of itself, Asolo Rep is committed to expanding its reach into the community, furthering its collaboration with the best theatre artists working in the industry today and cultivating new artists through its affiliation with the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training. Under the leadership of Producing Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards and Managing Director Linda DiGabriele, Asolo Rep's ambitious theatrical offerings and ground-breaking education and community programming engage audiences and ensure its lasting legacy for future generations.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Carolan Trbovich, BroadwayWorld: I won't share the entire plot. You need to experience this show for yourself. I was told cast members played principal roles as well as ensemble roles to give the cast greater breadth. There were 17 members in this cast and they made it look like at least double that size. Michael Hoover's set design was simple yet very effective for this production. Lighting designer Duane Schuler rendered just the right amount of ambiance for the variance of each scene. Choreographer Kelli Foster Warder challenged her cast with beautiful footwork and they skillfully obliged. I liked that Trevor Bowen graced wardrobe with renderings from the turn of the century to highlight the disparaging difference between the haves and the have-nots. Musical director Steve Orich and his 10-piece ensemble of musicians dynamically brought this powerful and beautiful score to life. Director Peter Rothstein called on this ensemble to deliver impeccable timing in their lines, dance routines and vocals.

Jay Handelman, Herald Tribune: The show is filled with fine performances from David Darrow as Mother's impassioned Younger Brother; Benjamin Dutcher as both Harry Houdini and an obnoxious fireman; Leslie Becker as the anarchic activist Emma Goldman; Billie Wildrick as the "it" girl of the era Evelyn Nesbit; Hugh Hastings as Grandfather and Henry Ford; and Bret Shuford as Father, who struggles to adjust to the changes around him.

Mary Fugate, Your Observer: It all comes together in this boisterous, inventive Asolo Rep production. It's a reprise of director Peter Rothstein's "Ragtime" revival at Theater Latté Da - a lean, mean version of the original Broadway show. (Here, you see a cast of only 17, as opposed to 44.) Instead of overwhelming you with a grand scale, this redux of "Ragtime" draws you in with a more intimate, personal style of storytelling. It's effective.

Kay Kipling, Sarasota Magazine: But the actors here take turns being members of the ensemble as well, interacting with each other in ways that bring the specific time and place to life while still summoning up the past's resemblance to the present. They're aided, of course, by the production's designers, from Michael Hoover's set (a vertical, tenement-looking building front with doors that frequently admit cast members) to Duane Schuler's lighting, casting shadows emphasizing actors' silhouettes, echoing the papers ones Tateh creates with scissors, to Kelli Foster Warder's choreography, which uses dances of the period, like a cakewalk, to convey the energy and spirit of the time.

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