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Critic’s Choice: Compelling ‘Ragtime’ at Marriott

‘Ragtime,” an engaging musical based on a 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, enthralled the opening-night audience at Marriott Theatre. where it received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Set in New York City at the turn of the 20th Century, the story draws a bead on divisiveness in America and its struggle to face issues of race, class and economic standing. Many disillusioned immigrants arrive in this land of opportunity anticipating streets paved with gold.

Historic and fictional figures populate the script. Among them are Nathaniel Stampley as Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr.; Alexander Aguilar as magician Harry Houdini; Michelle Lauto as vaudeville performer Evelyn Nesbit; Matt Deitchman as automobile pioneer Henry Ford; Larry Adams as Admiral Peary and Christina Thomas as activist Emma Goldman, among others.

Insightful direction by Nick Bowling and choreography by Kenneth L. Roberson keep the production on track. “Ragtime” draws from the book by playwright Terrence McNally, and it also benefits from the composer/lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.

A strong cast, well adept as actors and singers, is led by Kathy Voytko (as Mother), Nathaniel Stampley (as Coalhouse Waker), Benjamin Magnusan (as Tateh), Adam Monley (as Father), Katherine Thomas (as Sarah) and Will Mobley (as younger Brother).

Added firepower is provided by Jonathan Butliar-Duplessis,, Michelle Lauto, Paula Hlava and Patrick Scott McDermott.

Credit Jeff Kmiec for his effective set design that allows the cast to navigate unimpeded on the theater’s in-the-round format.

Jesse Klug’s lighting design adds luster, Theresa Ham’s costume design nails the period at every turn and Patti Garwood as orchestra conductor strikes the right chord.

“We live in explosive times, but often, to move forward, it is necessary to endure hardships,” Bowling observed in a comment on the play. “I that is what makes ‘Ragtime’ such an emotional and beautiful musical.”