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BWW Review: 5th Ave's RAGTIME Strikes to the Heart of its Own Story and Beyond

BWW Review: 5th Ave's RAGTIME Strikes to the Heart of its Own Story and Beyond
Danyel Fulton and Douglas Lyons as in
Ragtime at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka

Back in 1997 a somewhat younger Broadway Geek became obsessed with the musical "Ragtime". I even travelled to other cities to see it as many times as I could and basically became obsessed. I tell you this so you'll understand, Dear Readers, my deep love for this show which is firmly one of my top ten desert island shows and how amazingly picky I am with any production of it. With that in mind you'll understand, after reading this review, why you MUST go and get tickets to the current production at the 5th Avenue Theatre. A production that brought up almost all the feels from my initial viewing of this sublime show and even a few new ones.

Based on E.L. Doctorow's brilliant novel, the show mainly focuses on three groups as they collide at the beginning of the 1900's. An upper middle class white family (Louis Hobson, Kendra Kassebaum, Matthew Kacergis, Hugh Hastings, and Coleman Hunter), an immigrant Father and his daughter (Joshua Carter and Tatum Poirrier) and a negro couple (Douglas Lyons and Danyel Fulton). As the country swiftly changes so do the assigned stations and lots in life of these people creating a whole new outlook.

We don't need to dwell too much on the story as I don't want to spoil it for anyone who hasn't seen it. Just know that the Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty musical does absolute justice to its stirring source material and this production does justice to both. Director Peter Rothstein has taken the cast and pared it down from its grand Broadway beginnings. Gone are the individual choruses of whites and immigrants and negros but instead all the main characters now serve as the surrounding characters when other main character's stories are being told. This makes for a much more intimate tale and keeps the emotion of the story quite close. I did miss the power of an army of signers blowing me away during the opening number but that was a minor qualm for an otherwise stellar show. A show that feels even more resonant today than it did back then what with the escalating divisiveness we feel as well as the rising persecution of minorities and immigrants.

BWW Review: 5th Ave's RAGTIME Strikes to the Heart of its Own Story and Beyond
Joshua Carter and Tatum Poirrier in
Ragtime at the 5th Avenue Theatre.
Photo credit: Tracy Martin

The ensemble cast, to put it simply, is from the Gods. Kassebaum is a revelation as Mother as she invests so much thought and emotion into the role and her relationship with Hobson is picture perfect even when we see the flaws in that picture. Kacergis too nailed the arc of Mother's Younger Brother as he searched for who he was. Carter is stunning as the distraught and devoted Tateh who eventually becomes the ebullient Baron but never loses the heart. Eric Ankrim manages a kind of jovial wonder as the mystical Houdini only to turn around and horrify as the racist Willie Conklin. Andi Alhadeff is a force of nature as the powerful Emma Goldman. And Billie Wildrick brings in some brilliant comedy mixed with a tinge of sadness with the sultry Evelyn Nesbit. Even the kids in the show, Hunter and Poirrier, brought in tons of character and emotion to their roles.

But for many, it's the roles of Coalhouse and Sarah that define the show and Lyons and Fulton bring so much power and pathos, not to mention incredible voices, to the roles without ever becoming melodramatic or cloyinG. Lyons' love and devotion to Sarah and their child are only matched by his conviction to justice making for a superb performance. And Fulton played a lot of Sarah close to the vest making it all the more powerful when she let loose and she, above anyone else in the show, was responsible for all the sobbing emanating from Row R.

I cannot express how much of a can't miss this show is. Whether you're a die-hard fan of the show or a newbie this production will surely ignite a passion and love for the piece, new or renewed. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of "Ragtime" a still affected the next day WOW (my highest rating). It would be the crime of the century to let this one pass you by!

"Ragtime" performs at the 5th Avenue Theatre through November 5th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.


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From This Author Jay Irwin