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SDMT brings history to life with RAGTIME

“All things old are new again”, is proven true on stage at San Diego Musical Theatre’s production of RAGTIME, now playing at the Spreckels Theatre through February 21st.

RAGTIME follows three groups of people pursuing the American Dream over the course of a few years in the early 20th century: the well to do and very sheltered white family in New Rochelle, a widowed Eastern European immigrant and his daughter, and a black ragtime musician and his friends in Harlem.

Jay Donnell and the cast of RAGTIME
Jay Donnell and the cast of RAGTIME

The main arcs of the plots rest on the Mother , Carolyn Agan, of the wealthy family, as she tries to navigate the new events in her life as her husband is off traveling the world, Coalhouse Porter, Jay Donnell is a ragtime musician who woos and tries to win Sarah, Nicole Pryor, and becomes an activist while battling the lack of justice he receives as an African American, and new American immigrant Tateh, Louis Pardo, who tries to find the American dream for himself and his daughter.

As Mother, Agan has a lovely voice and adds a needed dose of compassion to the trials and tribulations that pepper the story. As Tateh, Pardo is very moving as a devoted Father trying to do right by his daughter and who wonders “where was the America we were supposed to get?” Yet, it is Donnell as Coalhouse who ultimately carries this show. His songs are moving and powerful and I saw more than one person cheer him enthusiastically after every number. Nicole Pryor aS Sarah is touching and her heartbreaking songs moved many people next to me to tears.

Throw in Harry Houdini, anarchist Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, and a fading vaudeville star, you can see why there is too much plot to go into detail on here. This show runs close to three hours, but it covers a lot of ground, touches on a lot of topics, and the ensemble is phenomenally strong.

The music here is a character in itself, as most of the show is sung and there is little spoken dialogue to move the show and its plot points along. The 41 person cast is accompanied by the 21 person orchestra, as always led by the fantastic Don Le Master.

While this may not be a story your textbooks tell, it highlights that in current day, and in the past as reflected in the show, the melting pot of America is still tackling issues like in white privilege, immigrants coming to look for a better life, and people fighting to remind others that “black lives matter.” In the case of this show, these issues are set to gorgeous music to help heighten and tell the story. While the show ends with the characters looking towards a hopeful future, it does take one back a bit to realize how far we all still have to go to put this past behind us and move forward.

This show won four Tony Awards when it debuted, and it has lost none of its potency, go see this show at the Spreckels before you miss it! For tickets call 858-560-5740 or go to

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