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BWW Review: RAGTIME - THE MUSICAL Sings Loud and Proud at Wolf Trap


The Washington DC area is truly lucky to get the last leg of the RAGTIME - THE MUSICAL National Tour this toasty weekend. Currently playing at the Wolf Trap Filene Center until Saturday, June 11, RAGTIME's director Marcia Milgrom Dodge has pieced together a powerful show full of emotion, beautiful imagery, and strong voices.

No matter how great the production value of RAGTIME, though, the strongest element of the show will always be Terrence McNally's story for the stage, based on E.L. Doctorow's "Ragtime" novel. RAGTIME focuses on three groups of people in the early 20th century: Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia; African Americans, with a focus on Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; and a white upper-class family, represented by Mother. While each main character comes from a very different background, they are creatively intertwined throughout the story. All three characters are united by their desire for change in their lives and ultimately a brighter future for all.

The show's entire cast is strong in their singing and acting. Though RAGTIME is a fairly heavy show, the cast is excellent at bringing out the lighter, more comedic moments. For the primary roles, Chris Sams stars as the smooth but frequently heartbroken Coalhouse Walker Jr.. Kate Turner plays a kind but daring Mother, and Matthew Curiano is a hopeful, humorous, and charged Tateh. Two performances that surprisingly stick out are the children's roles, The Little Boy, played by Colin Myers, and The Little Girl, played by Cara Myers. As young performing artists, their ability to capture the nuances and humor (especially for The Little Boy) of their characters is particularly impressive. A couple of other smaller performances worth noting are Sandy Zwier's fiery Emma Goldman and Troy Bruchwalski's patriarchal but sympathetic Father.

RAGTIME's visuals are simple and striking, especially through Mike Baldassari's lighting design. Baldassari's lighting encompasses RAGTIME's range of moods and emotions through precise timing and color. Additionally, the story's motif of the "silhouette" is also captured beautifully through the lighting as the actors and actresses are silhouetted against a colored background throughout the show. This is an iconic visual for the Ragtime musical, and it continues to be powerful.

The one aspect of the show that was sometimes distracting was the music. RAGTIME's run at Wolf Trap is using pre-recorded instrumentals as opposed to a live orchestra. At times, it seemed like the cast's singing did not exactly coincide with the pre-recording. If the cast is used to the live musical accompaniment, it's understandable how the change could create a slight awkwardness for the first night. However, despite any technical difficulties, the cast successfully captures the power of Stephen Flaherty's music and Lynn Ahrens' lyrics, making us, the audience members, really feel the emotion in the songs and story.

RAGTIME - THE MUSICAL is one of the strongest touring musical stories currently out there to enjoy. Be sure to grab your blanket, friends, and family and head to Wolf Trap for a night of excellent theater!

RAGTIME - THE MUSICAL plays at Wolf Trap (1551 Trap Road, Vienna, VA 22182) until Saturday, June 11.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets can be purchased online or by phone (1-877-965-3872).

Photo credit: Scott Suchman

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From This Author Emma Kouguell

Emma Kouguell is a lifelong theatergoer and arts enthusiast. She has been a part of a variety of arts projects, including blogging and scriptwriting for (read more...)