If you go see ‘Ragtime,’ a Griffin production now at the Den Theatre through July 16, 2017, you won’t be viewing a Broadway spectacle (if you haven’t put it on your must see schedule do yourself a favor and take care of it now).
Griffin’s ‘Ragtime’ is a minimalist production intimately performed in nearly a theater-in-the-round setting with just two pianos and a wind instrument and new orchestrations by music director Matt Deitchman.
It’s Director Scott Weinstein’s way of focusing on the issues of racism, women’s roles, immigration, wages and society in New York City in early 20th century that writer E.L. Doctorow did in his 1975 historical novel and were translated into a 1996 musical by lyricist Lynn Ahrens, composer Stephen Flaherty with book by Terrence McNally.
‘Ragtime’ does not need to be a spectacle. There is enough meat in the story and music,” Weinstein said in a recent interview.
“This production strips away the visuals. We made it about the people. It’s very intimate,” he said.
A similar feeling of intimacy is achieved by Writers Theatre’s powerful production of ‘Parade.’ Directed by Gary Griffin, the musical poignantly reflects the prejudices of a South that had not recovered from the Civil War.
Interestingly, Weinstein directed ‘Parade’ as a college senior when it was Northwestern University’s 2010 Dolphin Show. “It is one of the best scores for musical theatre,” he said. “There hasn’t been a revival until recently. Now there is a smaller version.”
He added, “It’s the same with ‘Ragtime.’ It was big. I wanted it stripped down.”
As to how he and his collaborators chose the show, Weinstein said, “It stands the test of time.”
After noting that the musical was written in the 1990s based on a book from the 1970s about the early 1900s, Weinstein said, “It’s even more relevant now. It’s so easy to go on line and see that these issues are still in the news.”
Asked if he thought Doctorow would be surprised, he said,” “Yes, and disappointed.”
Weinstein will be directing “Rock of Ages” at Drury Lane theatre this fall, beginning Aug. 24, 2017 and had directed its Childrens Theatre’s James & the Giant Peach in May.
A very successful director (“I’ve been lucky”) he has a long list of credits that includes (though not limited to) other Griffin shows, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre’s Garage Rep Series and Adirondack Theatre Festival. He is also the Associate Director for the National tour, Las Vegas and Chicago productions of “Million Dollar Quartet.”
“I like musicals. I like how music tells a story,” he said.
But he also likes shows that are not predictable. “I feel that we have preconceived ideas. There are our assumptions. The challenge is to do something other than expected,” Weinstein said.
It may be no surprise, that he likes Stephen Sondheim. Asked what show he would like to do, Weinstein immediately said, “Merrily We Roll along.”