Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Ragtime began life in Toronto, shepherded by Garth Drabinsky and his Livent Inc. company, in 1996 and opened on Broadway in January 1998. I believe Ragtime to be the finest American musical of the post British invasion era. In spite of this, it has never curried strong favor with New York audiences, the original production running only two years, despite mostly good reviews and a strong cast including Marin Mazzie, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Audra McDonald in her star-making role. I have oft wondered if Drabinsky's problems with financial irregularities (he later spent time in jail over them) hurt the length of the first Broadway run. A well-regarded 2009 production that began in Washington, D.C. also failed to score with audiences when it transferred to the Big Apple.
In a musical with a huge vista that attempts to give an overview of America through three family groups, one affluent white, one black, and the third Latvian immigrant, during a decade of huge social change, how does reducing cast size effect things? Basically, Rothstein has husbanded his resources and now, when we have a crowd scene, say Ellis Island as Tateh enters America, the audience must not be too surprised to see a mixture of white and black faces along with darker complexioned Eastern European ones. Principals stand alongside ensemble at times, so I was not shocked to see Mother working on Henry Ford's assembly line. With artful costuming by Trevor Bowen aided by shaded lighting by Duane Schuler, the loss is minimal. However, it does allow for audiences to experience one of the grandest musicals in a full-out professional production when budgets might declare otherwise, for which I shout bravo!
Every single member of the cast is a standout, but because of opportunities some are afforded more opportunities. Britt Ollmann in the central role of Mother delivers all the warmth you could desire as she grows into a woman of personal strength (much as she did in a recent production of Daddy Long Legs at freeFall Theatre where she also was outstanding). She brings the house down with "Back to Before." Bret Shuford is opposite her as Father, a handsome, charismatic figure, if a bit stuck in the ways of the world as they are, not as they might grow to be. Jared Joseph as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Danyel Fulton as Sarah are excellent. She brings tears to "Your Daddy's Son," and he dominates the stage every time he is on it, leading "Make Them Hear You," the finale. Sasha Andreev is equally strong as Tateh. Welcome to Asolo Rep, Mr. William Garrabrant as the Little Boy, Edgar, formerly seen frequently at freeFall Theatre. And welcome back Gig Spagnolo as Tateh's daughter after appearing in Roe a few weeks ago. Milaan Smith is delightful in a cameo as skater girl, mostly seen in silhouette.
Steve Orich leads a strong nine-piece ensemble, important since the score is almost through sung.
I suggest that if you have never seen this show or have and love it, run, don't walk to see it. It only has one more full week to play. For me, it is the must-see show of the season.
Ragtime, through May 27, 2018, at the Mertz Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, call the box office at 941-351-8000 or visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Musicians (in alphabetical order):