The 5th Avenue Theatre is mounting a new production of the 1998 Tony Award-winning musical, “Ragtime.” It is inspired by a 2016 streamlined staging at Theatre Latte Da in Minneapolis.
Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, “Ragtime” features a Tony Award-winning book by Terrence McNally and a Tony Award-winning score by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Flaherty’s music includes marches, cakewalks, gospel, and ragtime. Peter Rothstein, who directed the Theatre Latte Da production, also helms 5th Avenue’s new version, which runs October 13th-November 5th. (5th Avenue audiences may remember his work on “Guys and Dolls” and “Oklahoma!”).
“Ragtime” touches upon today’s fractured social and political climate. It tells the story of immigrants who helped make the United States a diverse and thriving nation.
Despite a $10 million budget and enthusiastic audiences, the 1998 production received mixed reviews. It was nominated for 13 Tony Award nominations, and won four: Best Featured Actress (Audra McDonald), Original Score, Book, and Orchestrations. It lost the Tony for Best Musical to its biggest rival, Julie Taymor’s megahit, “The Lion King.”
The 2009 Broadway revival opened to critical acclaim but closed after 28 previews and 65 performances. It still managed to snag seven Tony nominations.
Set in the volatile melting pot of New York City at the turn of the 20th century, “Ragtime” weaves together three distinct and compelling American stories: The African-American community, exploring a new kind of music pioneered by a daring pianist named Coalhouse Walker Jr.; suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and immigrants from all parts of the globe seeking better lives in the tenements of the Lower East Side, among them Tateh, a determined Jewish artist from Latvia, and his young daughter.
These three disparate worlds are connected only by celebrities: tycoons such as J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford, activists such as Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman, and entertainers such as Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit, catapulted into fame by the murder of her wealthy lover Stanford White by her millionaire husband Harry K.Thaw.
5th Avenue’s new production of “Ragtime” has a stripped-down cast of only 16 actors, with the leading actors doubling as the ensemble and chorus. By paring down the cast, the principals also serve as narrators of each other’s story.
The Tony-winning original score may not have generated any billboard hits, but the diversity of the songs delights–from the title tune to the exquisite ”Goodbye My Love” and “Your Daddy’s Hands.” For comedy relief, there is the playful, honkytonk tune, “The Show Biz” as well as the naughty, drunken baseball number, “What a Game.” And of course, the anthems “Wheels of A Dream,” and “Make Them Hear You.”
Ragtime music dominated the early 1900s. Its syncopated rhythm and solo piano style originated in the African-American community and became a part of the mainstream, thanks in part to composers like Scott Joplin, who helped popularize it. According to composer Flaherty, Doctorow felt the left hand in piano playing represented the strict order of the old guard, while the wild, new right-hand rhythms of the 20th century were anarchistic, pulling away from—and almost tearing against—the old.
In Rothstein’s vision, a lone grand piano is centerstage; the only object audience members see when they enter the theater. And throughout the performance, it transforms into different scenic elements–a Model T, a hearse, a movie dolly, and a speaker platform.
He believes “Ragtime” is as relevant today as it was in 1975, when Doctorow sat down to write his novel. “As a community, as a nation, we are personally responsible for each other’s story. ‘Ragtime’ is about our core values as a nation.”
Produced in collaboration with Asolo Repertory Theatre, “Ragtime” runs Tuesday through Sunday October 13-November 5 at 5th Avenue Theatre, Tickets start at $29; Please visit www.5thavenue.org or call the Box Office at (206) 625-1900. For more information, visit www.5thavenue.org.
Joshua Carter (Tateh)
Kendra Kassebaum (Mother)
Douglas Lyons (Coalhouse Walker Jr.)
Danyel Fulton (Sarah)
Matthew Kacergis (Younger Brother)
Andi Alhadeff (Emma Goldman)
Eric Ankrim (Housini, Willie Conklin)
Louis Hobson (Father)
Hugh Hastings (Grandfather, Henry Ford)
Ty Willis (Booker T. Washington)
Billie Wildrick (Evelyn Nesbit)
Asa Adams (Coalhouse Walker III)
Tatum Poirrier (Little Girl)
Coleman Hunter (Little Boy)
Matthew Kacergis (Younger Brother)
Lauren Du Pree (Sarah’s friend)
Richard Peacock (Coalhouse’s Friend)
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty; Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Directed by Peter Rothstein
Choreographed by Kelli Foster Warder
Musical Direction by Ben Whiteley
Michael Hoover (scenic design)
Trevor Bowen (costume design)
Duane Schuler (lighting design)
Christopher Walker (sound design)
Mary Pyanowski Jones (hair and makeup design)
Bruce Monroe (orchestrations)
Kat Sherrell and Albert Evans (Musical arrangements)
Cathan Bordyn (fight director)
Alyssa Keene (dialect coach)