The Great American Musical
A gunshot fires as a man steps from the J.P Morgan Library.
In this moment our hearts collectively break as we know justice has not been served. But such is the times for our heroes in America circa 1906. Life is not fair, but the times are changing as we’re taken back to the turn of the century in Marriott’s recent production of RAGTIME.
At first the stage reminds us of the picturesque “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”. The greenest grass with the whitest people dressed in their Sunday best. Suddenly with the opening number “Ragtime,” it’s not just white people anymore. The rest of our cast comes rushing onstage, immigrants and African Americans taking up space. This picture of America is not just for the upper white class anymore. This is a place where norms are about to be shaken.
And so, we follow our representatives of these three American people - Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime pianist, Tateh, a Jewish immigrant, and Mother, a sheltered upper-class housewife. We watch as they each go through their walks of life, as their stories intertwine, and as they change each other along the way.
When the ushers cautioned us the first act is 90 minutes and to please remain seated the whole time, we immediately begin to brace ourselves for the long haul. But the time flies by and it feels like it’s all but over too soon.
The stage design by Jeff Kmiec is stunning and simple. With minimum set pieces moving on and off, it’s just enough to give us a sense of our current setting. The set also punctuates our casts movements with pieces of the stage rising and falling during key moments.
The music of RAGTIME is sure to get any musical lover on their feet. It’s rife with crescendo-ing showstoppers like “Wheels of a Dream” and “Back to Before” as well as ragtime numbers, marches, and polkas. Our cast delivers these numbers with such ferocity and passion we’re gripped through every song.
Kathy Voytko as Mother delivers an engaging performance as we see her grow out of her shell when Father leaves her in charge of the household. She begins to make decisions for herself and embrace the changing society around her. Benjamin Magnuson as Tateh is utterly charming as a doting father and nearly drives us to tears as he loses his faith in the American dream.
And finally, Katherine Thomas and Nathaniel Stampley as Sarah and Coalhouse have us thoroughly captivated in their love story. Thomas recently appeared in Griffin Theatre’s production of Ragtime where she also stunned as Sarah... We feel their passion and connection to each other as well as their pain and struggle in a racist America.
Though the original musical was produced in 1996 and based off E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 book, it’s absolutely astounding how close RAGTIME comes to reflecting our time today. The message is especially poignant during this time when those who aren’t white men are fighting back for their voices to be heard and fighting for a place at the table.
Marriott’s RAGTIME is an impassioned cry for intersectionality as it reflects issues still prevalent today. Though RAGTIME might not be a good pick for someone who likes to leave their politics at the door, it’s a good pick for anyone who loves shows that engage with our current culture.