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BWW Review: RAGTIME at Toby's Dinner Theatre - It's Like Seeing It on Broadway

I was thinking of making this the shortest review I've ever done.

It would read, "Just do not miss this hit musical RAGTIME at Toby's Dinner Theatre."

I promise it won't be much longer although I could write forever about the history involved here and the many accomplished actors who work their butts off and succeed at entertaining an appreciate audience who gave them all a well-deserved standing ovation.

Many of you reading this may never have been to a dinner theater. Well, this may a good time to give it a try. Toby's has a reputation in the Baltimore/Washington area for presenting amazing productions for which she has received numerous Helen Hayes Awards. I am sure there will be a multitude of nominations for RAGTIME.

RAGTIME is based on the E. L. Doctorow 1975 novel. Producer Garth Drabinsky opened the musical in Toronto before opening on Broadway in 1998 and it ran for two years. It had an amazing cast: Brian Stokes Mitchell as Coal House Walker, Jr., Audra McDonald as Sarah, Marin Mazzie as Mother, Peter Friedman at Tateh, and little Lea Michelle (Yes...THAT Lea Michelle from "Glee" and SPRING AWAKENING) as Tateh's daughter.

I was livid when THE LION KING won the Tony for Best Musical over RAGTIME due to the fact that THE LION KING was not original (based on a cartoon) and RAGTIME'S original music, book, and orchestrations each won Tony Awards.

I must admit I just adore the musicals by the team of Ahrens and Flaherty. Flaherty does the music (there are soaring melodies that will stay with you forever) and clever and wonderful lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. (I highly recommend you buy the impressive CD before you see it.)

Directed and Staged by Toby Orenstein and Lawrence B. Munsey miraculously present this complex musical about early 20th century America. The opening number ("Ragtime") is worth the price of admission. Dressed all in white are the citizens of New Rochelle, NY with narration by a young "Edgar"(Gavin Willard who shares the role with Jace Franco) and his "Father" (Toby regular David Bosley-Reynolds) "Mother" (Elizabeth Rayca, a superb soprano), and older brother known "younger brother (Zac Brightbill). Edgar describes life for the wealthy family where the head of the household can leave home for a year to accompany Admiral Perry on his expedition to the North Pole.

Next to the stage comes the African American experience, the residents of Harlem who enter to the upbeat music of ragtime led by Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (the astounding Kevin McAllister), an accomplished musician who owns a very fancy automobile and is chasing his love "Sarah"(Ada Satterfield) who he finds has moved to New Rochelle who has had his child and is living with "Mother" and family.

Finally, the immigrants enter from Ellis Island led by the Jewish artist "Tateh"(Josh Simon making an impressive Toby's debut and I'm sure he'll be back many times), just arriving from Latvia with his "little girl" (Ella Boodin shared with Camden Lippert) who dreams of a life of success utilizing his art.

The Tony winning book by playwright Terrence McNally has all three separate factions intertwine in a way you just can't imagine.

There are scenes in New York suburb of New Rochelle, downtown Manhattan including Union Square, the J. P. Morgan Library, an assembly line in Detroit where they are making Fords, the boardwalk in Atlantic City, Ellis Island, Harlem, and on a train to Philadelphia. Wait till you see the baseball game bleacher scene "What a Game"! How Orenstein and Munsey pull this off is just a plain miracle.

You will meet some very famous historical figures during the performance. They include the famous magician Harry Houdini (Ben Lurye), Eveylyn Nesbitt (Julia Lancione), Booker T. Washington (DeCarlo Raspberry subbing for Anwar Thomas who became a father the day of the performance), J. P. Morgan (David Jennings), Henry Ford (David James), Admiral Perry (Justin Calhoun who also portrays villain Willie Conklin responsible for vandalizing Walker's lovely automobile) and revolutionary Emma Goldman (Coby Kay Callahan).

There is a superb orchestra under the baton of Ross Scott Rawlings (or Greg Knauf or Doug Lawler) and they are first rate.

Kudos to Ilona Kesell (Choreography), David A. Hopkins (Set Design), Lynn Joslin (Lighting Design), Mark Smedley (Sound Design), and Lawrence B. Munsey (Costume Design).

Each of the three different factions has the opportunity to shine. "Mother" has the gorgeous "Goodbye My Love", the trio "Journey On" is a powerful anthem by father, mother, and Tateh. Tateh's great numbers are "A Schtetle iz Amerike", "Success", and "Nothing Like the City".

Chrystal Freeman shines in "Till We Reach That Day" which closes Act I while Emma Goldman is powerful in "He Wanted To Say".

But there is no question that "Coalhouse" and "Sarah" have the most memorable numbers, "Wheels of A Dream", "Sarah Brown Eyes", and his solo "Make Them Hear You."

The 11 o'clock number is "Back to Before" sung by Mother.

This is the largest cast in Toby's long history. Do not by any means miss this incredible musical. RAGTIME runs until Nov. 15, 2015 so there's plenty of time to go see it. For tickets, call 410-730-8311 or visit


There are so many musicals on the local scene this fall.

For example:

OLIVER at Arena Stage. (Check out the great film Wednesday night, Sept. 30 at 7:30 on GETTV.)

KISS ME KATE at the Shakespeare Theatre Company

SECRET GARDEN at Center Stage

DOGFIGHT at Red Branch Theatre in Columbia (review to come)

Signature Theatre has two world premiere musicals -GIRLSTAR and CAKE-OFF. Remember the musical DINER? It will be returning to the Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington running Dec. 2 to Dec. 27.


Friday night Oct. 16 Live from Lincoln Center: Concert Version of SHOW BOAT with Vanessa Williams, Norm Lewis, Chris Fitzgerald, and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. I was lucky to see a rehearsal of this and you will love it.


Both on PBS. Check your local listings.

How about FREE THEATRE? You can see August Wilson's classic FENCES at Everyman Theatre, October 20, 2015. Visit But act quickly.

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From This Author Charles Shubow