Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Ragtime"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2003 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Company Theatre's current production is the 1998 hit musical, "Ragtime" which is based on E.L. Doctorow's novel. The epic sweep of this musical is captured in its opening prologue, a nine-minute kaleidoscope of fictional characters mingling with historical figures from the early 20th century. As the story continues, we meet pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. and his child's mother, Sarah who has been taken in by a respectable WASP family in New Rochelle, NY. This family is ruled by "Father" a patriarchal figure who dominates his household (and his submissive wife, "Mother") with his overbearing presence. Parallel story lines of the Jewish Latvian immigrant Tateh who unwittingly finds himself involved in the birth of the motion picture industry after inventing a flipbook for his daughter as well as the entertainer Evelyn Nesbit, the magician Harry Houdini and the anarchist Emma Goldman eventually mingle and merge. This enormous production boasts Broadway caliber performances in Norwell, MA and the directors, Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman with expert musical direction by Michael Joseph capture the flavor and essence of the early 1900's, earning the 62 member cast standing ovations at the end of both Act 1 and 2. This is definitely one show not to be missed this summer. WOW.

The two directors make all their scenes into picture post card moments with the costumes, lighting and blocking. One of the best examples is in the opening with the three different groups of people moving in unison around the stage. (These groups are the people of New Rochelle, the people of Harlem and the immigrants.) They cast all the roles superbly, making the most of all the comic and poignant moments of the script and musical numbers. The show is reminiscent of an American Les Miz with its emotional grandeur and glorious score. Michael and his orchestra are fabulous from the opening through the finale with the rich and compelling Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens score with its mixture of marches, cakewalks, lilting ballads and of course ragtime numbers. The choreography of this mix of musical numbers is by Sally Ashton Forrest and the mutitude of colorful costumes is by Shirley Carney. She also creates the sparkling white costumes for the New Rochelle residents. The lighting of the scenes to create the mood is by Franklin Meissner Jr. and codirector Zoe is the set designer. The sets include the family home, a beautiful sky scrim, a train station backdrop, a factory set, the gorgeous Atlantic City backdrop and an ornate library set complete with solid gold door. The model T car gets applause on its first entrance and is definitely a sight to behold on the stage. Tech director Bob Grazioso keeps all these set pieces moving on and off with ease. This is a massive show and the crew does an excellent job of running it.

The 62 member cast is lead by Karl Hudson as Coalhouse Walker Jr. who demands retribution when his car is vandalized by bigoted Irish firemen. His magnificent bass voice soars in his musical numbers as well as in his dialogue where he woos his love Sarah or displays his anger to his oppressors. His songs include "Getting Ready Rag", "Justice" and the powerful "Make Them Hear You" his anthem to right the wrongs of the world. Tracy Silva plays Sarah and her fantastic portrayal of this role will leave you in tears at its brilliance. Her lullaby to her baby, "Your Daddy's Son" is breathtaking as is her soaring duet with Karl called "Wheels of a Dream". This song is reprised in the Epilogue and brings the audience to tears. (I happened to be sitting next to Tracy's mother and after her first number, she grabbed my arm to tell me that was her daughter not even knowing I was reviewing the show. I told her that Tracy's great.) Their son, Coalhouse lll is played by Clifton Johnson lll, a tiny boy who's entrance near the end of the show will bring you to tears because of the tragic events which precede it. Also poignant is the funeral ballad at the end of Act 1, sung by Sarah's friend played by Dee Crawford.

The adventuresome and wandering Father is played by Dan Moore. He rules his home with an ironfist and leaves instructions for his wife to follow. Dan's songs include "Journey On" and "New Music". He blusters and bullies everyone around until Mother tells him to spend more time with their son. This leads to the funniest number in the show which is about baseball and is called "What A Game". The little boy learns some salty language from the crowd, giving the audience its biggest laughs of the night. The kindhearted Mother is played by Paula Markowicz who gives her the backbone she needs to stand up to Father while he has been away. Her acting and singing in this part are superb and she will give you chills up your spine while singing "Back to Before". Little Boy is played excellently by 10 year old, Zachary Eisenstein. This kid is not only a fantastic actor at a very young age but he has an incredible voice, too. He is a hoot in the baseball song and his line delivery sparkles throughout the show. Younger Brother is played by John King who is a banker during the day but proves his acting prowess in this show at night. He plays this multilayered role wonderfully and displays a stong baritone voice in his songs.

Another outstanding performance is by Michael Hammond as Tateh. He shows how much this Jewish widower loves his daughter by giving up his artwork, moving to Lawrence, MA to work in a factoryand to cheer up his daughter he creates a moving picture book which helps propel him into making silent movies. He then becomes Baron Ashkenazy. Michael excells in this role with his acting and his powerful voice. He and the Mother's duets, "Nothing Like the City" and "Our Children" are beautiful and show a warm relationship between two strangers in the first and between two friends in the second. Jessy Rowe plays his daughter who suffers and triumphs at their journey to America. The historical characters are given their due in this show, too. Mark Rocheteau is a tower of strength as Booker T Washington who tries to guide Coalhouse's journey back to redemption. Mark's powerful voice sells his songs and his lines as this important historical figure. Victoria Weinstein is Emma Goldman who leads the strikers into a revolt and in her own humble way helps Tateh out of his woes in the factory in Lawrence. Gretchen Hartig, a gorgeous brunette with sparkling blue eyes plays the seductive, Evelyn Nesbit, the girl on the velvet swing. Her husband, Harry Thaw (Michael Hammand) shoots her lover, Stanford White (Bill Cunningham) and the publicity gives her career a boost by the tabloids claiming it as the crime of the century in 1906. (Sounds like Roxie in "Chicago" who lives to get her name up in lights.) Gretchen who is a senior at Marymount Manhattan College, is a terrific singer and plays this character like Betty Boop. Her first number is "The Crime of the Century" which is done with reporters and dance hall girls clad in purple outfits while she is suspended in midair on a real swing. The second is "Atlantic City" a duet with real life boyfriend Christoper Mack who plays Harry Houdini. Chris uses a Hungarian accent in this role while performing several of Houdini's escape artist tricks, performing these physical feats with ease. He shows off his strong voice in his solo numbers and is no stranger to this theatre where he previously played Cousin Kevin in "Tommy". All the other cast members do topnotch work but it is impossible to list everyone in this review. So just make sure you rush to the box office to see "Ragtime" a fantastic Broadway like show in MA. Tell them Tony sent you. You will not be disappointed.

"Ragtime" (1 - 24 August)
1 (781) 871-ARTS

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide