Regional Reviews: San Francisco
Grandeur of Ragtime
Ragtime is back in the Bay Area, this time presented by Broadway by the Bay with a cast of 54 who sing and dance energetically. It seems every regional company in the Bay Area has presented this musical by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, and Terrence McNally. This marks the eighth time I have seen the masterful piece. I started with the pre-Broadway run at the Shubert Theatre in Los Angeles in 1997 with Brian Stokes Mitchell, LaChanze, Jason Graae and Judy Kaye. I was able to see the show again in New York with Audra McDonald replacing LaChanze and Marin Mazzie taking over the role of Mother. Since then I have seen the touring company and several regional productions.
Ragtime is magnificent in scope and unstinting in spirit. Director Brooke Knight has assembled a great cast of singers and dancers, and choreographer Berle Davis has devised some great dance numbers.
The show is dazzling, with the little boy (Andrew Sanford) on stage telling the audience about the "quietness" of New Rochell family life with the white-clad flock of white folks posing "just so" for photographs and singing about the era of innocence when "There were no Negroes ... and there were no immigrants." We meet Mother (Susan Himes Powers), Father (Gregory A. Tittle) and Mother's Younger Brother (Nick Kealy). Suddenly, the stage fills with the spirited blacks led by Coalhouse and then a ragtag band of right-off-the-boat immigrants led by Latvian Tateh (Tim Reynolds) and his young daughter (Carly Cozad). Choreographer Davis decided not to do the circle dance but his arrangement of the three groups is beautifully done. The choral work is inspiring.
Ragtime is probably one of the most thematically ambitious of all American musicals, and it takes a major regional company to present the massive work. Musical motifs are used intelligently for dramatic effect, and there is a variety of American style from ragtime to gospel to even a little of Sondheim in "Journey On."
This production has first rate performances across the board. Kieleil DeLeon plays a sympathetic Coalhouse. There is dignity and pride in his powerful voice, especially in his "Wheels of a Dream" duet with Dawn L. Troupe, who is a terrific Sarah, pouring great emotion into the song. She also gives a heartfelt rendition of "Your Daddy's Son." Susan Himes Powers as Mother has a golden voice in "What Kind of Woman" and "Back to Before." Nick Kealy is excellent in the role of Younger Brother. His change from dissatisfied youth to dedicated follower of Coalhouse is splendid. Nick also has vibrant vocal chops in "New Music," "The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square," and "He Wanted to Say."
Tim Reynolds as Tateh puts a real throbbing passion into his early scenes, showing anxiety over his aspirations of being in America. Carrie Madsen Olson plays Evelyn Nesbit like a Marilyn Monroe character. Linda Piccone gives a powerhouse performance as Emma Goldman, and James Creer is a strong Booker T. Washington; both have striking voices. Stephen Perez is first rate as Harry Houdini and Gregory A. Tittle as Father is wonderful, especially in the baseball scene in the second act. John Musgrave gives a properly curmudgeonly performance at Grandfather. Andrew Sanford gives a great performance as the youngest member of the "all white" family. John Bridges as Henry Ford and Terrence Lewis as J.P. Morgan are effective in their roles while Carly Cozad, Erika Bowman, Matthew Ferretti, Andrew, Gary Stanford and Tavia Hunt all are also impressive.
Ragtime played through October 9th at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center, 600 North Delaware, San Mateo. For more information visit www.broadwaybythebay.org.