RAGTIME The MusicalBook by Terrance McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Based on the novel “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow
Photos by Bill Hall
Family Music Theatre
PRINCIPAL and FEATURED LEADS
Christion Dior Draper – Coalhouse Walker Jr.
Heather Morrill – Mother
Samuel Germany III – Tateh
Sydney Cornelius – Sarah
David Curry – Father
Sharon Balthrop – Emma Goldman
Valizander Banks –Sarah’s Friend
Jacob Clinton – Younger Brother
Amanda Absher, Peyton Allen, Shannon Allen-Sanchez, Lyndsey Anthony, Chloe Balthrop, Sharon Balthrop, Jeff Balthrop, Mary Bartke, Ana Berthelsen, Ethan Bishop, James Bishop, Christopher Bullock, Alex Bunger, Joshua Butcher, Paula Butcher, Abigail Carlton, Christia Caudle, Victoria Cornelius, Abigail Craven, Joey Cryer, Elizabeth Dawson, Johnathan Drake, Alexandria Ellison, Chris Flach, Timothy Flach, Ethan Gebauer, Angela Germany, Rose Germany, Benjamin Griesinger, Cody Griffin, Jeremy Hamilton, Edward Harrison, Gillian Hayes, Rebekah Hendrick, Abigail Holmes, Christian Holmes, Heather Howton, Bruce Johnson III, Michael Earl Jones, Riley Kemp, Marat ‘Peter” Keyes, Alex Lopez, Sydney Lowenthal, Whitney Lucio, Mark-Andrew McMeans, Sara-Joe McMeans, Bayleigh Miller, Jennifer Otey, Danyale Pace, Amber Perkins, Andre Perkins, D’Aurus Poole, Camille Russo, Cody Slusher, Brynn’ Taylor, Timothy Tellez, Ethan Thatcher, Johanna Thatcher, Deshawn Thomas, Isabel Trapp, Eryn Tucker-Green, James Vinson, Roxanna “Roxy” Walker-Perkins, Melissa Waters, Christopher Watson, Rebekah Welser, Shalaune Williams, Jacob Zufelt
Dr. Sam Germany – Director
Stacia Woodlan – Choreographer
Dee Longino – Technical Director
Scott Hayes –Technical Assistant
Michael Lyons -- CVC Technical Theatre Specialist
David Johns – Stage Manager
Anna Baggs – Assistant Stage Manager
Joel Keys -- Set Construction Coordinator
Rebekah Hendrick, Christia Caudle, Sharon Balthrop – Costume Mistresses
David Curry – Props Master
Michael Hayes – FMT Technology Specialist
Sydney Cornelius – Social Media and Artistic Design
Aaron Anderson – Sound Engineer
Dr. Sam Germany -- Conductor
Brittney Cook, William Sprinkle, Allyson Whitsitt, Pedro Maldonado, Josh Davis, Jeff Rowland, Billy Holderby, Grady Niblo, Mason Hicks, Keith Smelser, Charles Salvaggio, Jared Bacon, Beth Thomas
Reviewed Performance: 7/6/2019
Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In many ways it was the ensemble that was the star of this show. Ranging in age from a baby just months old (a third-generation performer) to people with many decades to their credit, this multi-racial group gave the performance their all and then some. There are long sections of this musical where the entire ensemble sat on either side of the stage, watching the main action center. They were all perfectly still, perfectly involved in the scene unfolding above them on the multi-level set. That attentiveness is the mark of great direction and choreography of course, but it indicates something more – that love for the show was been instilled, and is willingly given. To see so many people being “for” each other was a remarkable experience. The ensemble were a unit to be sure, but each performer was also an individual character, holding their wrists just so as a white-clad debutantes, bodies fully engaged as angry protestors, or clinging to shawls and children as frightened immigrants desperate to set foot on American shores. What a delight.
“Ragtime” is set in at the dawn of 20th-century America, and tells intersecting stories of the changing economic and social times. The show cleverly uses historical figures of the time to root us in reality, but the stars of the show are designated as archetypes – Father, Mother, Little Boy and Younger Brother for a wealthy Anglo family, Tateh and Little Girl representing the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and Ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker standing for the educated and rising middle-class African-Americans. Set in the volatile melting pot of New York City, these characters fight for the values they hold dear, and in the process find and lose love, and some lose their lives.
This show does not shy away from confrontational issues such as race and discrimination. Indeed, it assails them head-on. It is disturbing to realize that we are still, in 2019 experiencing these same issues. It makes Ragtime a sadly relevant musical. It also contains hope, however, and that is where this production chose to focus – that courage and standing up for one’s beliefs can lead to a better future, if not for our generation, then for the generations to come. That love will be found, and given, and that race differences can be transcended. That was the message of this production, and also seems to be the message of Family Music Theatre, for which they are to be heartily commended.
All the featured leads had astonishing voices -- indeed Broadway-caliber is not an overstatement. Christion Dior Draper as Coalhouse Walker Jr. was in particular outstanding. His buttery rich voice soared effortlessly above the ensemble in rousing numbers such as “Getting Ready Rag” and “Ragtime.” His duets with the stunningly beautiful Sydney Cornelius as the love of his life Sarah were show-stoppers. He also had range as an actor, allowing us to feel the pride, pain, and frustration of a man trying to live his life, but stopped by the social mores of the times and the color of his skin. He was mesmerizing every moment he was on stage.
Similar praise goes to Sydney Cornelius. Her gorgeous voice soared in her moving solo, “Your Daddy’s Son,” and had us all crying. Her performance as a broken single mother who finds love again was a delight, and the duets with Draper in “Wheels of a Dream” and “Sarah Brown Eyes” were highlights of the show. The couple was choreographed to sing and dance ‘together” even after Sarah’s death, and there was not a dry eye in the house during that special moment.
The nuanced performance of Heather Morrill as Mother was exceptional. In many ways she is the moral compass of the show, showing compassion when her status in life dictated she should not. Morrill’s performance and voice were excellent, you simply loved her character and rejoiced when at the end she finds true love with Tateh, portrayed by excellent actor Samuel Germany III. He also has a fine, clear voice -- nothing but top-notch work here, but it is his acting that really brought this immigrant from “the old country” to life and captured our imagination. His passion for keeping his daughter safe, to rise up and be successful in American were wonderfully portrayed, as was his quiet love for Mother.
The role of Father is not a showy role, and one that has the difficult position of standing in for the old ways of doing things… although in not quite as pithy a way as Grandfather, which was played with zing by Jeff Balthrop. David Curry did an excellent job of keeping Father relatable and leant his excellent voice to many numbers. We can not let this family go by without a high-five to young actor James Bishop as Little Boy who made the most of every forthright line. He was a real pro. Younger Brother played by Jacob Clinton was another solid performance, with the actor conveying a wistful yearning for meaning in his life, until finding his way to becoming a revolutionary activist for social justice. This was another very professional performance by a young man who could be on his way to great things in the musical theatre world.
Other standouts include the fiery performance of Sharon Balthrop as Union organizer and Socialist reformer Emma Goldman. Her vocals were clear and biting just as they needed to be, and her performance compelling. I’d join her in a fight. Both Ana Berthelsen as Evelyn Nesbit and Mark-Andrew McMeans as a straight-jacketed Harry Houdini were fun to watch, and fully embodied their characters. Stalwart and dignified Booker T. Washington was expertly rendered by Jonathan Drake. Little Girl was played with pathos and a great smile by Mary Bartke. Valizander Banks broke our hearts as she mourned the passing of her friend Sarah next to her coffin. Her exceptional voice and performance of “Til We Reach That Day” was one I will remember for a long time. I must also mention that the entire audience said “aww” with delight at the same time when adorable young Brynn Taylor took the stage at the very end of the show.
To move the large number of singers and actors around the set took an outstanding director. Dr. Sam Germany is to be applauded for his vision for this show, and the seamless way he allowed the story to be told, and his care in allowing his ensemble to create within his crafted movement. In particular the opening number “Ragtime” with three clearly delineated ethnic groups eventually mingling and struggling to find their way perfectly depicted the melting pot of NYC. His crush of immigrants making their way to our shores was equally moving, in “Shtetl Iz Amereke.” The musical numbers were all professionally choreographed by Stasia Woodlan. Of particular delight were a Ragtime dance in the Tempo Club and a dancing baseball sequence in the second act.
As always it was a plus to have a live orchestra playing this remarkable score, and the musicians didn’t hit a wrong note. This was a professional show through and through and the matinee audience was on its feet applauding the cast and orchestra before the curtain call even began. This was Family Music Theatre’s last production (its 69th!) in the lovely thrust theatre on the campus at Cedar Valley college. An announcement was made at the top of the show that this extraordinarily gifted and dedicated group of production staff and performers intends to continue their excellent productions moving forward and will be seeking a new home. Any space would be lucky to have them, and this reviewer can’t wait to see what delightful musical they do next, wherever in the DFW area that may be. Congratulations to everyone on an outstanding show!