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Front Row Centre Theatre Review: RAGTIME

In December 1996 I attended the premiere of a brand new musical making its debut in Toronto. RAGTIME was adapted from E.L.Doctorow's novel by Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. They found ingenious ways to enhance the story with the addition of a score rich and melody and steeped in the ragtime idiom. At the time I considered this one of the finest new musicals in many seasons, and no show has come along since to eclipse it.


Naturally I approached the chance to see the "first GTA community staging" of the show at the Meadowvale theatre with a mixture of anticipation and caution.  I need not have worried. Directors Brian Pritchard and Maria Moore have created a spare almost minimalist production that serves the material very effectively creating a fast moving, seamless production, aided immensely by projections of historic black and white photos. So, even without an elaborate physical production, the story still has the power to move people.


The cast seem especially dedicated to making these stories come alive with Carole Filion offering a beautifully nuanced study of Mother. Her Act Two solo "Back to before" and her duet with Leander Mendoza "Our Children" were emotional high points.


Similarly, Michael Kinney uses his powerful voice and stage presence to make Coalhouse a multi-dimensional characterization. He uses his voice to great effect in the first act number "Wheels of a Dream."


Evan Smith is passionate as Mother's younger brother who eventually becomes a follower of Coalhouse as he embarks on his terrorist-style attacks in a misguided pursuit of vengeance.  Even the smaller roles, Ashley Comeau as Evelyn Nesbit and David Grimason as Harry Houdini provide bright sharp cameos.


When so much about this production is beautifully performed, it may seem churlish to quibble over a few minor missteps but there are times when the orchestral underscoring makes some of the spoken dialogue difficult to hear. Also, the staging of the opening number needs to create more tension and more clearly delineate the three separate groups whose stories will intermingle over the course of the play.


If you saw RAGTIME in its premiere engagement in Toronto, you will no doubt welcome the opportunity to revisit it here. If you have never seen RAGTIME before, take advantage of this chance to see a first rate community theatre staging. Ether way, you are in for a treat!




City Centre Musical Productions presents RAGTIME – The Musical at the Meadowvale Theatre, 6315 Montevideo Road, through April 2nd. Tickets are $21 and available by calling (905) 615-4720.

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