RAGTIME at Moonlight Theatre offers gorgeous vocals, an epic 38-member cast, and a 25-piece orchestra for the audience to enjoy. This acclaimed musical is playing through September 3rd at the Moonlight Amphitheatre.
RAGTIME is a challenging musical, and not just because of the size and scope of its production. It follows three stories of very divergent groups of people whose lives slowly intersect. All told through scenes and song, as vignettes introduce the audience to the characters and the world around them.
There is a white upper-class family in New Rochelle whose patriarch leaves to go explore the North Pole, confident that his family and the world will be the same when he returns and leaving an ill-equipped Mother (Bets Malone) in charge while he is gone. A washerwoman to the family named Sarah (Brook Henderson), who had the baby of the ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Charl Brown) while he’s living a life free of responsibility until he learns of Sarah’s situation. There is also Tateh (Geno Carr) a Jewish immigrant who has brought his daughter to America so they can build a new life together.
The soaring orchestrations and the massive ensemble create gorgeous harmonies as the three stories as they slowly merge into one.
Brown as Coalhouse is outstanding as the hopeful and freewheeling musician who slowly turns into something harder and more dangerous. His duet with Henderson “The Wheels Of The Dream” is beautiful and features soaring vocals from them both, which is then countered in the second act with his militant “Make Them Hear You.”
Carr is excellent as Tateh, an immigrant who comes to America, and sees a place ready to fulfill every promise of hope he has given his daughter. His anguish as his dreams give way to reality is palpable as he has to find new ways to help them survive.
There are many standout performances including Bets Malone as Mother, Gerilyn Brault as the socialist organizer Emma Goldman, and Jake Bradford as the searching for a purpose Younger Brother to Mother.
Directed and choreographed by John Vaughan, he keeps the pace up on the almost three-hour show as best as possible. This is no small feat considering it takes almost to the intermission for the show to stop telling the story through ballads.
Music Director and conductor Elan McMahan and the orchestra are incredibly talented at bringing this difficult score soaring to life each performance. A shout out to dialect coach Vanessa Dinning as well, for working with the actors on the wide variety of accents the show requires.
The scenic design by Kevin Depinet establishes the scenes while still allowing the entire ensemble to have room to move as needed. Lighting by Jennifer Edwards, and projections by Blake McCarty compliment the sets and help set the historical scene.
The show is based on a 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, which was adapted into a musical by Terrance McNally, Stephen Flaherty, and Lynn Ahrens, and went on to win 4 Tony Awards in 1998. Yet, seeing it now and despite the standout performances, the plot and dynamics of the show haven’t aged quite as well as the music.
The show starts with an exciting building of voices and the pursuit of the rose-tinted American Dream. But as the story goes on we see an unarmed person of color denied justice by police who are protecting the assets of a wealthy capitalist, a religious person whitewashing his entire heritage and identity in order to become successful, while a wealthy young white man commits a crime without consequence. For as beautiful as the music is, it shows that in entertainment like in life, when there is casual violence and death followed almost immediately by proclamations of how great America is for children to dream, it all rings a bit hollow.
How To Get Tickets
RAGTIME is playing at the Moonlight Amphitheatre through September 3rd. For ticket and show time information go to moonlightstage.com
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