Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Theater Review: Encore! Presents: RAGTIME The Musical In Concert

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 00:47


Encore! Cast Performing Arts has struck theatrical gold again. Their 2015 production of AIDA left me with my jaw agape and drooling. Now, they’ve brought an absolutely gorgeous and lush production of one of my all-time favorite Broadway musicals, RAGTIME, to the stage of the Doctor Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. And although, like AIDARAGTIME is being billed as “The Musical In Concert,” there’s no mistaking that this mounting of one of the best musicals to ever grace the Broadway stage, is so much more than that. The show is acted out, in costume, complete with elaborate props and moving set pieces and well thought out staging and choreography. And except for the 200 choral members flanking the action on stage right and left, there’s an entire musical production being presented here. And this production is lightyears beyond the touring production of RAGTIME that has encircled the US for the past 7 months. The story of the show is quite elaborate and based upon source material by E.L. Doctorow. Three main sets of characters–some from a privileged upper White class, some from a struggling Black class, and some from a very struggling immigrant class–are immersed in the US during the turn of the century. These characters are surrounded by true historic figures from American history that help shape their stories, all of which eventually become extremely interconnected.

The talent on display here is second to none. Practically every performer in this cast would fit in just perfectly on any show on Broadway. In fact, I would even venture to say that not only does this ensemble surpass that of RAGTIME‘s recent tour, but also the Tony-nominated revival of the production that lived a very short life on Broadway back in 2010. Probably the biggest standout of the show is Michael Swickard, who plays the lovable and iconic foreigner Tateh. Interestingly, in almost every production of RAGTIME I’ve ever seen, the show tends to be punctuated by an outstanding performance by the actor portraying this character. Swickard brings down the house in his numbers. Andrew Meidernbauer’s Father, Natale Pirrotta’s Younger Brother, and Meghan Moroney’s Emma Goldman are also incredibly well performed and are all three extremely impressive. As the leads, Darnell Abraham is a fine Coalhouse Walker, Jr. His vocals are great; but he did lend a little bit of a pop vibe to the role which is slightly off character. Faith Boles portrayal of Sarah is spot on; her strong vocals brings “Your Daddy’s Son” to life with electricity. Hannah Laird, as Mother, is simply perfect. The audience even began a standing ovation after her incredible second act showstopper “Back to Before.”

Practically EVERYTHING about Encore!’s production of RAGTIME is flawless. The chorus adds to the ensembles beautifully (although they could be slightly louder) and the orchestra brings the strong score to the forefront. The only complaint I have is that in a couple of sections in four numbers (“Goodbye, My Love,” Till We Reach That Day,” “Back to Before,” and “Make Them Hear You”), the percussion overpowers the orchestra, creating a momentary “waltzy” feel to the songs, which is not how composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns wrote the music. However, these moments are brief and would probably go unnoticed to someone more unfamiliar with the music. Beyond the magnificent performers, musicians, choral members and everyone else behind this incredible production lies my biggest praise. Over the years, the original book of RAGTIME became increasingly truncated. Numbers were shortened, pieces of dialogue snipped, and plot elements hastened. It appears the production team here is well aware of that, because they have gone out of their way to ensure those elements of the show, which I found to be so crucial to the story, are reunited within this production. I grinned ear to ear when I heard those lines restored and brought back to the show! Even the Entre ‘Acte, shortened in many of the post-Broadway stagings of RAGTIME, is played in its entirety here. There are simply not enough words of praise I can give to this production of RAGTIME. Everything from the acting, to the staging, to the singing, to the incredibly intelligent artistic team’s choices, Encore!’s RAGTIME is simply nothing short of a theatrical triumph! It is sad the show couldn’t have a longer run. It is so good it deserves to be seen by theater lovers over a period of weeks rather than days. A very few seats are left to Sunday’s final performance. Curtain is at 7:30pm and tickets can be purchased here: https://www.drphillipscenter.org/shows-and-events/Shows-Events/theater/201256-ragtime-the-musical.stml. Below, watch the creative team behind the show describe some of its creation:

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