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RAGTIME THE MUSICAL RAGTIME THE MUSICAL
(National Tour)
Book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Dallas Summer Musicals

Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge
Scenic Design by Kevin Depinet
Lighting Design by Mike Baldassari
Sound Design by Craig Cassidy
Projection Design by Mike Tutaj
Costume Design by Gail Baldoni
Wig/Hair Design by Dave Bova
Musical Direction/Supervision by Steven M. Bishop

CAST:
The Little Boy: Colin Myers/Jordan Santiago
Father: Troy Bruchwalski
Mother: Kate Turner
Mother’s Younger Brother: Donald Coggin
Grandfather: Bob Marcus
Coalhouse Walker, Jr.: Chris Sams
Sarah: Leslie Jackson
Booker T. Washington: Jeffrey Johnson II
Tateh: Matthew Curiano
The Little Girl: Cara Myers/Leilani Santiago
Harry Houdini: Mark Alpert
J.P. Morgan: Todd Berkich
Henry Ford: John Anker Bow
Emma Goldman: Sandy Zwier
Evelyn Nesbit: Jillian Van Niel
Admiral Peary: Todd Berkich
Matthew Henson: Joshua William Green
Stanford White: John Barsoian
Harry K. Thaw: Alec Mathieson
Kathleen: Colleen Gallagher
Sarah’s Friend: Aneesa Folds
Willie Conklin: Joe Callahan
Brigit: Heidi Santiago
Charles S. Whitman: John Barsoian

Ensemble: Mark Alpert, John Barsoian, Todd Berkich, John Anker Bow, Joe Callahan, Aneesa Folds, Colleen Gallagher, Daniel Gorham, Joshua William Green, Milika Griffiths, Jeffrey Johnson II, Alec Mathieson, Heidi Santiago, Cecilia Snow, Jillian Van Niel, Sandy Zwier

All photos by Scott Suchman

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Reviewed Performance 5/23/2016

Reviewed by Holly Reed, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Ragtime is a musical look at a changing America at the dawn of the 20th century. Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime follows the tale of Mother, a white Protestant homemaking wife, Coalhouse Walker Jr., an African-American Harlem musician, and Tateh, a Latvian Jewish immigrant. Representative of the polarities of the American population, the intertwining of race, wealth, and background—and the resistance to do so—paves the way for this exposition on the turbulent diversifying of America. Ragtime features a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Tony-nominated director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge helms the production.

National tours always bring with them the highest of expectations. Community and regional productions, especially those housed in smaller theaters with struggling budgets and volunteer staff, are given a fair measure of grace and an unspoken disclaimer through which the audience can politely overlook certain technical flaws. But national tours, launched from the juggernaut of Broadway, sweep through smaller American cities bringing with them the professionalism, excellence, and over-the-top production value that have audiences giddy with anticipation. The pre-show buzz in the Music Hall at Fair Park is always exhilarating. Upon curtain, the stakes are high.

Perhaps that set-up is a little lofty for all shows that come through Fair Park. While the performances of the actors were absolutely stellar, technically, this show was flawed from the first breath into a microphone. A nasty static plagued the entire show. In the first large moment of music, where the orchestra and cast was wailing, I actually tried to discern whether the noise was an intentional period-styled percussion embellishment. I quickly realized this was a mic issue, which I was certain would be fixed at the first scene change. Not so. For the entire 2 hours and 40 minutes, the nagging, ghostly static swept through the Hall, never predictable from where it came or went. Apparently it was a mystery among production staff as well. The static was only present during musical numbers, not during spoken dialog. But since Ragtime is primarily sung-through, (the story is told through the songs with some accompanying snippets of spoken dialogue) the problem was present the entire evening. There were several mic cues missed as well— perhaps from the distraction of the other sound dilemmas—that robbed us of important dialogue and lyrics. The general sound mix was off. A few lighting issues followed suit. A bit of a technical train-wreck. Nevertheless, this was opening night, so hopefully the kinks are worked out and from day two and beyond the cast can soar sans these hidden phantoms stealing the show.

Stage design was interesting. The opening number used lighting well to set apart the three specific groups: red for the African American group, blue for the immigrants, and the proverbial white for the upper-class. I’m always a little leery when there is a significant use of projection screens, but I was relieved that these were subtle and well done and didn’t distract from the action on stage. I was a little disappointed at the sets used, or actually the lack thereof. It seemed as if the director was given the choice of one piece of set, and she chose a double staircase. I would wager that particular piece was used in 90% of the musical in various forms. I think if that was representative of a certain concept or theme that might have been appropriate, but it seemed to reflect a lack of creativity and/or budget. I kept thinking, “There’s that staircase again.” Again, with a national tour in a well-equipped venue, the audience expects a little more wow factor.

There were a few quick places I really enjoyed that no doubt came from the mind of director/choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge. During one scene, two ladies fighting over a man do a Stretch Armstrong with him, extending his arms over twice their normal length. They wrap him up in them, cleverly creating a straightjacket. Another was a couple of scene changes in which the white folk change costumes and the colored ladies carry them off stage. Subtle yet strong. The silhouette theme was powerful throughout the show, as Dodge showed strong creativity reincarnating Tateh’s silhouettes into beautiful choreography sequences. Another scene with outstanding choreography was “What a Game” to which the audience robustly responded with laughter and applause. Costumes were exquisite and poignant, from the pristine white, buttoned-up upper class to the blood-red wardrobes of the African American group. I especially delighted in the vibrant uniforms of the ragtime band in Atlantic City and Coalhouse’s distinctly cultural three-piece suit.

Ragtime was led by a strong cast who, despite the persistent technical flaws, maintained their connection and integrity with no lapses whatsoever. While I found that the book of the show lacked some character development and I was often confused as to the actual storyline, the actors did their best to help the audience make sense of a very scattered plot.

By far, the strongest performance of the night was by Matthew Curiano who tackled the role of Tateh with passion, strength, and a tender sensitivity. While his character often seemed to be randomly dropped in from a different show, Matthew gave the character a grand presence when on stage and carved for him a spot in a show that was primarily about the other two cultures. Matthew showed great skill in embracing the truth of the moment on stage, responding to his surroundings with honesty and spontaneity that seemed fresh and off-book. His ideas, conversation, and songs were of the moment and instant, not pre-meditated or rote. The story itself could easily have survived without his character or culture, and might have been better off and clearer without it, but this show benefited greatly from his presence as a skilled and talented actor.

The next headliner was definitely Chris Sams as the bold Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Again, there were mysteries to the character of Coalhouse that were never quite worked out in script or song, but that didn’t prevent Sams from shining in this role. I wanted to see a stronger impetus behind the war within Coalhouse, why he left Sarah and how he pined for the relationship lost. He was obviously the main character in the story, but the fragmented plot chased too many rabbits and didn’t allow his character to get the full exposure it needed. Sams embraced what was available and pushed to its limits the definition of the character given. His beautiful bass voice was soothing and haunting and his charisma made him larger than life in every scene. I enjoyed the powerful “Wheels of a Dream,” however, I wanted to hear much more from Coalhouse than was allotted to him, as he was the sole character responsible for carrying the title theme of “Ragtime.” He had a few small outtakes on the piano, but the show’s overall musical style was so varied there never was a strong enough presence to warrant giving this specific style of Rag the place of title.

Kate Turner and her exquisite soprano voice kept the character of Mother at a lofty and naive place—which was underwhelming small in the actual grand scheme of things. It seems that the story wanted to give her a stronger place, but the writers kept her vaguely thin and transparent. Mother had no real stakes in the game, and while she rallied for the protection of Sarah and Coalhouse’s infant, there was no real reason behind her generosity. It was somewhat token and shallow, even though we want to believe her compassion was genuine, there was not enough development in her to really understand who or why she was so important and warranted a high place in the ranks of curtain call. Nevertheless, Turner, consistent with the cast of excellence surrounding her, poured her soul into the places she could and captured the audience in her breathtaking renditions of “Goodbye My Love” and “What Kind of Woman.”

I especially enjoyed the role of The Little Boy played by Colin Myers. He seemed to be the glue that stuck all parts of the show together, which was a pretty tall order. Again, I kept longing for more story, more explanation, more connection between the three cultures, and I often felt that longing from the character of The Little Boy. Out of the mouths of babes, as it were. Isn’t it always the young that haven’t been tainted by the colors of the world. Colin maintained that innocence, as a child should, and teased us to long for better bridges between characters. It was as if he was constantly trying to put one hand of color into another, to intentionally overlook boundaries, or live as if they are not there. I appreciated the presence of a child, and Colin’s energy and innocence was a welcome pause in the heavy racial theme.

There was so much more story to be told. Unruly branches could be pruned for the sake of the root, such as the unnecessary vignettes involving random period icons. Thus I was somewhat disappointed in the musical itself and became more and more frustrated as time went on. Technical issues certainly added to the frustration. But the cast of Ragtime was stellar. They strove to tell a very discombobulated story in the best way they could. Costumes were delightful, voices rang from the trained and talented. The orchestra flourished in the exuberant score. This musical does not allow the audience to relax and contemplate the subtle themes represented, it requires a little more work to tie up loose ends of the story. But it is well performed by a talented and passionate cast whom I look forward to seeing flourish in future productions.




Ragtime the Musical
Dallas Summer Musicals - Music Hall at Fair Park
Playing May 24–June 5, 2016

For dates, times, prices, etc. for tickets, visit
http://www.dallassummermusicals.org/shows_ragtime.shtm

There are many ticket resellers and secondary markets for tickets. For the best seats and to eliminate the risk of fraud, get tickets in advance through the DSM Box Office, Online at www.dallassummermusicals.org ETIX at 1.800.514.ETIX (3849) or at the Music Hall Box Office 1.5 hours before a scheduled performance. Purchasing tickets from any other seller runs a high risk of receiving fraudulent tickets.