BWW Reviews: RAGTIME, Landor Theatre, September 6 2011

One of the joys of theatre is its transformation of space from the physical into the imaginary - it's one reason why exposure to drama should form a part of every child's education. In Ragtime (at the Landor Theatre until 8 October), a compact space above a South London pub provides the canvas for a musical portrait of New York's teeming metropolis of 100 years ago - in the hands of director Robert McWhir and through brilliantly clever use of silhouettes, the Big Apple at its biggest is fully realised in our mind's eye.

Based on EL Doctorow's epic novel, this revival of the award-winning Broadway show follows the intersecting lives of three families: one wealthy, world-weary and WASPish; another immigrant, impoverished and industrious; another African-American, angry and anarchic. These three breaking and broken families are uncomfortably stereotyped (the white partriarch is casually racist in the manner of an antebellum South "gentleman"; the Jewish immigrant is technocratic and brims with business potential even in his darkest days; the African-American is a womanising musician who has seen the error of his ways) but one has to leave such political correctness at the door, put it down to its 1975 source material and wallow in the melodrama.

And we're not short of melodrama, as Mother (Louisa Lydell in a beautifully judged performance) trapped in a marriage slowly falling apart, takes an abandoned newborn and its frightened African-American mother Sarah (Rosalind James) into her comfortable house in the white neighbourhood of New Rochelle. Mother's impulsive act of kindness sparks off events that lead her husband and brother to confront their complacent acceptance of a status quo that is crumbling all around them. The baby's father, Coalhouse (Kurt Kansley), is eventually accepted back by Sarah (Rosalind James), but his driving of the New Model T Ford on the roads of New Rochelle leads to consequences none can foresee. As black and white lives descend into chaos, Tateh (John Barr in a high octane portrayal), a Latvian immigrant seeking the American Dream, confronts an American nightmare in the tenements and factories of the Lower East Side, before catching a break which leads him on an upward spiral that mirrors Coalhouse's downward curve. There's plenty of historical characters touching these lives too: Henry Ford heartlessly turning men and women into machines; JP Morgan flaunting the power of the oligarchs; Harry Houdini showing that immigrants really can make it in America; and Booker T Washington and Emma Goldman, preaching revolution to the workers, the former through slow assimilation into white society, the latter through overthrowing it.

The production works because, as in the real New York and the real London, everyone is forced together  - audience and cast. We see the fear in Tateh's eyes as he fears losing his teenage daughter to illness or predatory men; we feel Coalhouse's desolation (Kansley's singing is emotive and his acting even more affecting); and we feel Sarah's love for the baby she had abandoned in such trauma (in a cast of talented singers, Ms James is the standout voice). The production uses no microphones and no special effects and is all the stronger for it. Through the power of theatre, we really are transported 3000 miles in distance and 100 years in time, as a small stage turns into a sprawling city.



Interview: Brodie Donougher A REAL LIFE BILLY ELLIOT STORY!

What do you get when you have a ballet dancer who dreams of making it professionally and showing the world that guys can dance too?  You have a real-life Billy Elliot story, which is happening to someone who played the titular role of Billy on the West End back home in the UK, and is now here in the US studying and training in professional ballet making his dancing dreams a reality! Not only does he dance, but he has done a few acting roles as well and even participated in a professional opera as a dancer. He is taking the role, and making it his real-life story!   At the end of the musical, we see Billy leaving his home and family to head off for training at the Royal Ballet School, so this is like getting to see the story continue beyond the stage!  Broadway World Detroit got a chance to catch up with Brodie Donougher, the last person to play the role of Billy, and see what he’s up to since his days on the West End stage 7 years ago!

Review: BLACK PANTHER IN CONCERT, Royal Albert Hall

Conducted by Anthony Parnther (isn’t that the perfect name to lead this specific venture?), this European premiere features Massamba Diop on the talking drum, an instrument essential to the score. Diop, who performed the original tracks for director Ryan Coogler, is a force of nature. After a beautiful introduction by Parnther (who surprisingly does a cracking impression of James Earl Jones as Mufasa!), Diop gave a taster for what was to come: a vibrant tattoo that goes hand in hand with masterful storytelling, filling the Hall effortlessly.


Few words grab the attention like murder. And few genres outside immersive theatre can pull you physically into a specific time and place. So why aren’t there more immersive murder productions like this one?


All in all, the evening is like a group session with no guarantees of being called out or receiving answers. Believers will believe, sceptics won’t. Without going into Michael’s “gift”, the two hours are, unfortunately, rather dull. He jumps straight in between tongue-in-cheek jokes and an entertainer’s spirit. A tense silence falls onto the audience and he starts pacing around, trying to “pick up” some “energy”. He is respectful, and kind, almost apologetic for his intrusions into people’s personal lives as he glances into nothingness, pulling information out of thin air.

From This Author - Gary Naylor

Gary Naylor is chief London reviewer for BroadwayWorld ( and feels privileged to see so much of his home city's theatre. He writes about ... (read more about this author)



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