Review by Lauryn Angel
Ragtime: The Musical, based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name, brings together three very different families at the opening of the twentieth century: The Little Boy and his upper-class family, residents of New Rochelle, New York; Tateh and The Little Girl, who are immigrants, living in a Lower East Side tenement; and Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, the woman he loves, from Harlem. Their lives begin to intertwine when Mother finds Sarah’s abandoned infant in her garden and takes Sarah and the infant into their home. At the edges of the story are historical figures Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington, and Emma Goldman, who shape the course of the story both directly and indirectly.
Marcia Milgrom Dodge’s production is very spare with regard to the set, with a pair of metal staircases that are put together and taken apart to represent various locations. This puts an emphasis on the characters themselves, creating a more intimate production. It’s a move that serves the performers well, as there are no distractions to pull the eye away from the performers. Chris Sams is the ensemble’s standout performer as Coalhouse Walker Jr., the tragic figure of the piece, but Kate Jackson (Mother), Donald Coggin (Mother’s Younger Brother), and Matthew Curiano (Tateh) all give heart-felt performances, and the ensemble as a whole is fantastic.
While Ragtime may not exactly be the kind of feel-good story that many hope for – one woman in the queue for the ladies’ room at intermission complained that even Les Miserables has happy moments – it tells a grand story on a smaller, more intimate scale and is definitely worth adding to your list of summer fun.