The Company Theatre celebrates the start of their 40th Anniversary season with the 1998 hit musical “Ragtime” which is based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel. The epic sweep of this musical is captured in its opening prologue, a nine minute kaleidoscope of fictional characters mingling with historical ones. At the dawn of the twentieth century, everything is changing and anything is possible. Set in the volatile melting part of turn of the century, New York, three distinctly American tales are woven together, that of a stifled upper class wife, a determined Jewish immigrant and a daring young Harlem musician. They are all united by their courage, compassion and belief in the promise of the future. Together they confront history’s timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and what it means to live in America.
This epic musical is excellently directed by Zoe Bradford and Jordie Saucerman. They capture the flavor and the essence of early 1900 New York. This is definitely one show not to be missed. The talented cast is rewarded with a resounding standing ovation.This is the first show I reviewed for them back in 2003, making this my 15th year of reviewing shows at Company Theatre. Back then the show was viewed as wow what progress we’ve made in this new century but 15 years later, it is yikes this is the stuff that is still happening in America now!
The directors make their scenes into picture post card moments with the costumes, lighting and blocking. One of the best examples is the opening montage with the three different groups of people moving in unison around the stage. These three groups are the people from New Rochelle, the people from Harlem and the immigrants. They cast these roles beautifully, making the most of the comic and dramatic moments of the script and musical numbers. This musical is reminiscent of an American “Les Miserables” with its emotional grandeur and glorious score. Steve Bass makes the harmonic blend between performers and orchestra splendidly. He conducts a fifteen piece orchestra that is fabulous from the opening through the finale with the rich and compelling Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens score with its mixture of marches, cakewalks, lilting ballads and of course, ragtime numbers choreographed expertly by Sally Ashton Forrest. The multitude of colorful costumes are by Brianna Plummer who also did the white costumes of the New Rochelle people. The two story set is by Ryan Barrow and the expert lighting is by Adam Clark. The lighting changes during many songs setting the perfect mood for the scenes. The model T gets applause and it is certainly a sight to behold.
This huge 35 member cast is lead by Davron Monroe as Coalhouse Walker Jr. who demands retribution when his model T is vandalized by bigoted Irish firemen. His strong baritone voice soars in his musical numbers as well as in his dialogue where he woos his love for Sarah or displays his anger to his oppressors. His songs include “His Name is Coalhouse Walker”, “Getting Ready Rag”, “Justice”, the poignant “Sarah Brown Eyes” flashback and the powerful “Make Them Hear You” his anthem to right the wrongs of the world which definitely rings true nowadays.
Sarah is well played by Arielle Rogers. Her lullaby to her baby son, “Daddy’s Eyes” is poignant and “Wheel of a Dream”, her duet with Davron is beautifully rendered. Another poignant song is sung by Sarah’s friend, excellently sung by Mildred E. Walker. It is a funeral song at the end of Act 1 that will leave you in tears.
The adventuresome and wandering Father is excellently played by Peter Adams who has a terrific tenor voice. He rules his house with an iron fist and leaves detailed instructions for his wife to follow when he leaves town. Peter’s songs include “Journey On” when he takes off for the North Pole and “New Music” when he returns home from his adventure to find things have changed quite a bit this song leads to the reconciliation between Coalhouse and Sarah. Father blusters and bullies everyone around until Mother convinces him to take their son out and spend more time with him. This leads to the funniest number in the show which is called “What a Game” where Father thinks baseball is a respectable game but the Boy finds out it is a rowdy game indeed with the cussing and swearing around him. The little boy utters “Up Your Alley” at the end of the game which won sustained laughter from the audience.
The kindhearted Mother is played by Paula Markowitz who gives her a backbone to stand up to her husband when he returns after his journey. Her acting and singing in this part is superb and she sends chills up your spine when she sings the show stopping “Back to Before” how times have changed and she won’t be a docile woman anymore. Her duets with Tateh are excellent, too. Little Boy is played excellently by 10 year old Owen Veith. This young boy is not only a terrific actor at a young age but has an incredible singing voice, too. He is hilarious in the Baseball Song and his line delivery during the show sparkles as well.
Another comical character is the Grandfather who is well played by Daniel Hannafin. His one liners will leave you rolling in the aisles with laughter. The angry and indignant Younger Brother is excellently played by Jeffrey Sewell. He plays the lovesick young man when he meets Evelyn Nesbit and later on turns into the angry young man when the race relations between the Irish firemen and Coalhouse heats up. Jeffrey displays his strong baritone voice in the group numbers and in “The Night Goldman Spoke at Union Square” and in “He Wanted to Say” with Emma Goldman. He just graduated high school and is headed for college in NYC to major in musical theatre.
Another outstanding performance is by Michael Hammond as Tateh. I reviewed Michael before in this role, as Will Rogers in “The Will Rogers Follies” and Harold Hill in “The Music Man” for Company Theatre. He shows how much this Jewish widower loves his daughter by giving up his artwork, moves to Lawrence, MA to work in a factory and to cheer his daughter up, Tateh creates a moving picture book which helps propel him into making silent movies. He transforms himself into Baron Ashkenazy. Michael excels in this role with his strong acting prowess and powerful voice. His solos are “Success” where he tries to find his niche in America, “Gliding” while on a train discovers moving picture books and “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay Inc.” where he shows how to film silent movie scenes. Michael and Paula’s duets are “Nothing Like the City” and “Our Children” which shows their warm relationship between Tateh and Mother as two strangers in the first and between two friends in the second. In real life, Paula and Michael have been friends since they were in kindergarten together. Hannah Dwyer who is ten years old plays his daughter who suffers and triumphs with her father on their journey to America.
The historical figures are given their due in this show, too. Todd McNeel Jr. is a tower of strength as Booker T. Washington who tries to lead Coalhouse back to the road of redemption. Todd’s powerful voice sells his lines and his songs especially compelling is “Look What You’ve Done.” Melissa Carubia is Emma Goldman, a revolutionary figure who leads the workers in their strike. She also helps Tateh in her own humble way. Evelyn Nesbit, the girl on the velvet swing is wonderfully played by Sarah Kelly, Evelyn caused a sensation in the early 1900’s when her husband Harry Thaw shot and killed her lover, Stanford White which at the time was billed as the “Crime of the Century” which is the name of the song Sara does with the reporters and spectators. It sounds a bit like Roxie Hart in “Chicago” wanting her name up in lights. Her second song is “Atlantic City” done with James Fernandes as Harry Houdini. James performs some magic tricks and displays his strong voice in this role, too.
So for a sensational epic musical extravaganza, be sure to catch “Ragtime” at Company Theatre in Norwell, MA. Rush down to the box office, call or email them for tickets because these shows will definitely sell out. Tell them Tony sent you.
July 27 to August 19
The Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive, Norwell, MA
(781) 871-2787 or www.companytheatre.com
By Tony Annicone
Photos by Zoe Bradford