Audiences can enjoy the musical ‘Ragtime’ with its book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty without knowing where its theme and main rhythm were born. The tales are compelling as are the show’s superb voices.
But knowledge of the times portrayed from the early 1900s to 1917, a time rife with prejudice and important movements for women’s rights and better labor conditions, is helpful to appreciating the messages of the musical’s origin, novelist E.L. Doctorow’s famed 1975 novel, Ragtime.
It is appropriately named after the syncopated “rags” music popular with African Americans in the 1890s up to the First World War.
When translated into the musical, first appearing in Toronto in 1996 and opened on Broadway in 1998, the prominent background and piece tinkled on the keys by Doctorow’s character, Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker, Jr., was “Maple Leaf Rag.”
Written by African American composer Scott Joplin, the piece became the “face” of a sound arguably first written by another African American composer, Ernest Hogan, who called his pieces “rags.”
Doctorow’s novel, and later a film and the musical, follows the fictional fortunes of a wealthy white suburban New York family, an African American couple and a Jewish immigrant and his daughter. They served as a way to zoom in on prejudices against Negros, the term used at the time, and bigotry towards immigrants.
The tales are intermingled with actual historical figures such as Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, Standford White, Harry Kendall Thaw and Admiral Peary.
You know the period is the early 1900s by the terrific costumes designed by Sarah Laux and by the story’s historical figures. However, similar to the many Shakespearean plays now set in other years, ‘Ragtime’ could be moved to now, more than a century later, and still have a similar impact.
The joy of seeing the Marriott show is listening to Kathy Voytko as Mother, the wealthy, caring mom in New Rochelle, and Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Coalhouse Walker, Jr.’s abandoned lover whom he wants to reclaim.
It is also the excellent acting of Nathaniel Stampley as Coalhouse and Benjamin Magnuson as Tateh, a Jewish artist immigrant.
Indeed, directed by Nick Bowling, the entire cast, a large one at 29 players, is excellent.
However special kudos go to Patrick Scott McDermott as Mother’s The Little Boy who has a fairly large role innocently reflecting the thoughts and terms he hear, and Paula Hlava as Tateh’s daughter, The Little Girl who heightens the plight of immigrant’s conditions.
The only problem I had with the production was that at 2 hours, 40 minutes, it became too long to appreciate all the fine singing and dancing.
DETAILS: ‘Ragtime- the Musical” is at Marriott Theatre , 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, now through March 18, 2018. Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes with one 15 minute intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.
Note: Ragtime contains strong language and content relating to race. It is recommended for ages 13 and older.
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