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Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

The Tin Pan Alley Rag

Also see John's review of Mame

Alton Fitzgerald White and
Fred Berman

The Tin Pan Alley Rag tells the fictional story of the meeting of composers Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin in 1915. Written by Mark Saltzman, the show features music and lyrics by both Joplin and Berlin. Musical Director Brad Ellis deftly plays his way through this show, from complex ragtime to poignant arias. Choreography by George Faison adds energy and style; the dancing is both entertaining and well executed. Costuming by Vickie Esposito frames the time period nicely.

Manhattan's 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue was known as Tin Pan Alley. Composers banged out song after song, attempting to write a hit and get it published. Irving Berlin ruled Tin Pan Alley for a time. His relentless tenacity and raw talent drove him to commercial success. Scott Joplin was, however, driven by a need for artistic success. He was a trained musician who perfected ragtime from his work playing piano in honky-tonks and whorehouses (Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" is in fact named for The Maple Leaf Club, where he played). But he longed to be recognized for something more. In The Tin Pan Alley Rag Scott Joplin brings his opera Treemonisha to Irving Berlin in hopes of getting him to help get it published. Berlin is unconvinced of the commercial wisdom of Joplin's proposal, though he sees its artistic value. He seemingly has sacrificed his own artistic yens for the sake of a formulaic commercial product. The story blossoms as a tribute to the spirit of Scott Joplin and the era of Americana that gave us composers like Berlin and Joplin, who were two sides of the same coin.

The two men are seemingly so different and yet so similar. Irving Berlin, the son of poor Russian Jewish immigrants, was nearly 20 years younger than Scott Joplin. Joplin was the grandchild of a slave, and both men lived in an America filled with prejudice and segregation. Though he was the "King of Ragtime," Joplin's financial success was meager when compared to that of Berlin. Both men shared similar heartbreaks; each lost young wives to sudden illness in the first year of marriage. Perhaps their heartaches led to the beauty of what they felt compelled to put down on paper.

Scott Joplin passed away in 1917 at the age of 49 of an advanced case of syphilis. Irving Berlin passed away in 1989 at the age of 101. Though Joplin never got to see his Treemonisha published in his lifetime, on November 4, 1975 it opened on Broadway and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Score, and a Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Joplin for his "contributions to American music" in 1976. In a lovely ending to Mark Saltzman's Tin Pan Alley Rag, Irving Berlin is there in the audience on the opening night of Treemonisha in 1975.

Alton Fitzgerald White is a fine actor, and as Scott Joplin has dignity and heart. He creates a tangible love between Joplin and his young wife Freddie. He even makes a brief scene with Alfred Ernst memorable. White is not able to establish a palpable connection to Fred Berman as Irving Berlin, however. This may be due to Berman's overly cocky portrayal of Berlin. Berlin's relationship with his young wife Dorothy lacks believability, and the lack of warmth in Berman's Berlin is just unappealing enough to allow us to not care about his grief at her loss. Autumn Dornfeld is palatable but bland as Dorothy, smiling and singing without any character.

There are some exciting ensemble performances and cameos in this production. Michael Howell as Freddie's father is funny. Idara Victor is wonderful as Freddie and sings beautifully as Treemonisha. Bonita Hyman sings gloriously in "I Want To See My Child Tonight," and when the two women sing together, it is nearly breathtaking.

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre in association with Rodger Hess Productions, Inc. presentsThe Tin Pan Alley Rag January 17 - February 5, 2006 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. This production is based on a version originally produced at the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia in 1999. Subsequent productions have also taken place at The Pasadena Playhouse and The Godspeed Opera House.

The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd and A1A in Jupiter, FL. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres and the Theatre League of South Florida. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday 8 PM, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2 PM. Tickets, $25 - $45, can be purchased at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Box Office, by phone at 561/ 575-3332 or 800/ 445-1666, or online at

Fred Berman*: Irving Berlin
Alton Fitzgerald White*: Scott Joplin
Carmen Barika*: Canoe Singer, Hatie Mae, Harlem Floozie
Lanette Costas*: Canoe Singer, Bethana, Harlem Floozie
Autumn Dornfeld*: Moon Singer, Hawaiian Singer, Salon Singer, Sophie, Dorothy Goetz
Andre Garner*: Lizzie Singer, Romeo Singer, Gilto, Willie, Cuban Singer, Mr. Payton
Warren B, Griffin III: Bink, Harlem Stagehand, Conjurer
Daria Hardeman*: Blues Singer, Miss Esther Lee
Michael Howell*: Ned, Williams, Johnny, Freddie's Father
Bonita Hyman: Waltz Singer, Monisha, Eugenia, Wedding Singer, Librarian
Terrace Jones*: Piano Player, Swipesey, Harlem Stagehand, Rudus
Dirk Lumbard*: Turkey Singer, Tate, Hopeful Songwriter, Jimmy Kelly, Mooney Mulligan, Knickerbocker, Cuba M.C., Thaddeus, Driver
Idara Victor*: Waltz Singer, Treemonisha, Freddie Alexander

CREW:Director / Projection Design: Jiri Zizka
Music Direction and Arrangements: Brad Ellis
Choreography: George Faison
Scenic Design: David P. Gordon
Lighting Design: Jerold R. Forsyth
Costume Design: Vickie Esposito
Sound Design: Carl Casella & T. Richard Fitzgerald
Production Stage Manager: Julie A. Richardson*

*Denotes a member of Actor's Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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