Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Ragtime"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Larry Stark


A Review by Larry Stark

I didn't make it to the press-night opening of "Ragtime"; instead I saw it yesterday afternoon (30 September).

I won.

Those reviewers who had attended saw, not an opening, but a disasterous tech-rehearsal. (The show's Technical Director David Foley and Mark DeLuzio/Mockingbird its sound designer are probably hanging in effigy from the rafters of the greenroom right now.)

But I got to see it --- and hear it --- in all its full-throated glory, and with a huge mixed-race audience who lept to their feet shouting as the final curtain came down. And I was right there with them.

So you may read totally conflicting reviews of this production; what I recommend is that you see the show yourself, and make up your own mind.

"Ragtime" has been a star-cross'd show since it's Broadway opening --- and I'll say more about that later --- but it is a big show needing the big stage and audience it gets at Dorchester's Strand Theatre. Terrence McNally's script --- carved out of E.L.Doctorow's novel --- braids three strains of Americans into "unum" during the tempestuous turmoils of our pre-World War I coming of age. The White establishment of New Rochelle --- aristocracy and laborers --- engage the eagerly destitute immigrants of New York and the uppity "Niggers" of Harlem in wary circle-dances, as individuals emerge and interact, spar and war and demand dignity, and to be heard. It is a bitter, uncomfortable time in which Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford and Booker T. Washington have their say, and entertainers like Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbitt consider the hollowness of fame. A big show, with surprising triumphs and shocking tragedies --- and people, slowly, changing and warily accepting one another.

It's a show that can boast the American Civil Liberties Union as a producer and Mayor Tom Menino as a p/r man. And it has a stunning cast of maybe forty or so, from Boston and New York and Chicago and elsewhere, who seem to treat the show as something holy, something to be done Right. What a pity too few reviewers came too late!

People who see a lot of theater may be moved to get to Dorchester, before the show must close a week from now, to see Boston-theatre faces popping up in the cast. Here are a few of the names I found familiar in the Playbill: Janie E. Howland, Lisa Wondolowski, Ryan A. Anderson, Matthew Stern, Amanda Ruggiero, Casey Preston, Susan Johnston, Shonna and Kevin Cirone, June Baboian, Greg Balla, Sierra Kagen, and McCaela Donovan.

There is fine Choreography here from Anne McAlexander, excellent Music from Matthew Stern and a great live orchestra, and Boston must thank Assistant Producers Megan Kenny and Marco Zanelli and Assistant Director Erich Rettstadt for that invisible work that makes shows happen. But Meg Fofonoff, a Producer/Director who knows all about rising like a phoenix from ashes, must be proud of what I saw on the Strand stage yesterday.

I am. Bravo. Bravo ALL!


And now for the footnote:
If you asked anyone connected with the original Broadway production of "Ragtime" "Who was the muscle? Who was it made this show a success?" every one would answer "Oh, this was Garth's baby!"

Does anyone remember the name Garth Drabinsky? No? How about "Livent"?

Beginning in 1978, Garth Drabinsky's Canadian-born company produced "Macbeth" "Kiss of the Spider Woman" "Show Boat" "Barrymore" "Candide" and finally in 1998-2000 "Ragtime"; and I say "finally" because in order to finance this huge show, he and his partner cooked the books, lied to investors, and got sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud. And everyone you ask who made that show says "Ghod damnit, it was Worth it!"

Go to the Strand Theatre this week, and make up your own mind.


"Ragtime" (6 - 14 January)
@ The Strand Theatre, 543 Columbia Road, DORCHESTER MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide