A moving and very relevant production of Ragtime the Musical is now on stage at the Music Theatre of Connecticut (MTC). Ragtime relates the story of three different groups of people in the United States at the turn of the 20th Century. The three groups are African Americans, an upper class white family from New Rochelle in Westchester County and Eastern European immigrants. These groups aver very different but their lives will become intertwined.
The story adapted for the stage by Terrence McNally also weaves actual historical figures of the period along with the fictional characters. We see appearances from Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Admiral Peary (polar explorer), Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman (writer and anarchist), Stanford White (famous architect- Penn Station NYC) and Evelyn Nesbit (actress, model and lover of Stanford White). The historical figures bring a dose or reality into this otherwise fictional story. The tale explores the world of early 20th Century America where African Americans represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr. a musician, (Ezekiel Andrew), a white upper class family represented by Mother (Juliet Lambert Pratt) and Father(Dennis Holland) , and the immigrants represented by Tateh (Frank Mastrone) all tell their stories of life in America. Their worlds are very different, but their world start to collide in unexpected ways as the new century transforms the nation.
When Father leaves on a polar expedition he is quite surprised by meeting Matthew Henson, an African American explorer who ventured to the arctic many times. At home Mother discovers an African American baby left in her yard and decides to care for him and his mother Sarah (Soara-Joye Ross) who moves into Mother’s home. We soon find out that the father is the famous Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. who comes to Mother’s home in New Rochelle to reunite with his family. His fine clothes and new Model T are met with resentment and racism by whites in the area. When Father returns and finds that Mother has taken in the baby and his mother, he realizes that the safe world he knew is changing just as America was changing. He laments that nothing would ever be the same, but his wife welcomes the changes.
Meanwhile Teteh and his daughter cannot scratch out a living on the streets of the lower East Side selling drawings, so they move to a factory town in New England where Teteh finds long hours and exploitation. Still believing in the dream of a better life he moves again to Philadelphia. Later he crosses paths with Mother in Atlantic City where his artistic abilities have landed him a job as a director of silent films. The three worlds of very different people cross, and are all transformed as was the nation during this period.
The music written by Stephen Flaherty with Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is woven with period correct ragtime piano pieces that are performed by two pianists on stage. The score is moving and dramatic with lighter songs woven in to break the dramatic tension. This is a big production for MTC to undertake with 20 songs alone in Act One and 12 in Act Two. In the end the performance was brilliant. The cast of 16 actors is large for the small size of the theater but credit goes to director Kevin Connors for guiding these wonderful actors so well through a complex production. This musical does not have the usual dance routines seen in musicals but rather leans on the story, the music and the actors to tell the story. If you have not been to this theater then you are missing a special experience. It is a small intimate space with seating for the small audience on three sides. The effect is that the guests feel as if they are being drawn into the play itself.
The play includes actors with Broadway, Off-Broadway, National Tours and Regional experience. Standout performances abound and we loved Juliet Lambert Pratt as Mother. We last saw her at MTC in Bridges of Madison County. A wonderful acting and vocal performance. Soara-Joye Ross as Sarah, Brian Demar Jones as Booker T. Washington, Mia Scarpa as Emma Goldman (previously at MTC in Always…..Patsy Cline), Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Dennis Holland as Father, and Jessica Molly Schwartz as Evelyn Nesbit and the rest of the cast all gave wonderful performances and brought the opening night audience to their feet.
With a moving musical score, relevant story and tremendous performances, you should add Ragtime the Musical on your must see list. But hurry the show runs through October 13th 2019.
For tickets and information: https://www.musictheatreofct.com/
Music Theatre Of Connecticut
509 Westport Ave, Norwalk, CT, 06851
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