Concert Version of “Ragtime”
Concert Version of “Ragtime”
Book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty
Directed by Don Hopkinson, Jr.
August 13, 2011
Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center, Sanford Fla.</strong>
Don Hopkinson possesses some sort of super power: he pulled 87 people together on stage plus countless stage mangers, follow spot operators, lackeys, minions, myrmidons and other hangers on to give us the sprawling “Ragtime”. This Altman-esque story of 1906 America focuses on three groups: a well to do WASP industrialist’s family, at Latvian Jewish immigrant and his daughter, and a black musician and his girl friend. The WASP’s doubt the very existence of blacks and immigrants, the Latvian believe America will make him rich, and Mr. Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Chevalier Lovett) believes that he can find justice in America.
Father (Jason Bailey) runs off to help Admiral Peary discover the North Pole and gets as far as Baffin Bay. Mother (Pricilla Bagley) digs up a buried-alive black child in the garden and befriends its mother (Shonda Thurman) while her older son (Gabriel Quijano) discovers his social conscience and his Younger Brother (Jason Carl Crase) learns to swear. Coalhouse has a run in with the yobo firemen Wilily Conklin (Brendon Rogers) and swears murderous vengeance until JP Morgan (Clay Mozart) and Father convince him to die in the arms of the American legal system instead of in a fire ball that would destroy Morgan’s original Shakespeare folio. There’s more plot, sub plot and counter plot here than anyone should be required to track, but fortunately a narrator (Kent Walker) gives us exposition dumps periodically. The first act runs as long a regular full length play, and by intermission I have no earthly idea who to follow or why. The second act perks up; here we find a sympathetic narrative line in Coalhouse and his abuse at the hands of power. In the first act we hear position statements, in the second we see people make decisions.
While the music is superb and the singing solid, there were microphone and level problems with the spoken audio. I missed any number of lines and a radio station even snuck in once or twice. Even though these technical problems I heard no bad performances, and many stellar ones. I’ll mention Larry Stallings as the crusty Grandfather, Mr. Rogers as the evil Irishman, and Jonathan Rebar as Tatah, the immigrant artist turned film maker blow hard. I don’t have a song list, but Ms Bagley and Mr. Lovett both had some stunning numbers, and Jason Bailey was tonight’s trouper – he never flinches as a wayward elbow clipped the back of his head at curtain call.
I enjoyed this monster project for its music, acting, and over the top mass of talent. All this work should have run more than two shows; it’s a heaping helping of entertainment. But the play itself is in need of editing, and for the first hour the music and rather pompous pronouncements made me feel like I was there for and Evening Of Important Theater. Father ran off to explore, Mother did the moral right / social wrong of being nice to blacks, children overcame their parent’s prejudices, and Coalhouse visualized the Civil Rights movement. It took Mr. Walker’s very specific abuse to engage me, and old saw of “Show, don’t tell” pulled “Ragtime” from a three credit lecture on undergrad American History to a full up standing ovation. Thank you Mr. Coalhouse and thank you Mr. Hopkinson.