You would think that after seeing Ragtime five times already, it would be a boring experience, right? Wrong. It just keeps getting better and better. I hadn't seen the show since the release of the original Broadway cast recording, and having listened to it numerous times, I now have the score memorized. This, plus the invite backstage after the performance, promised to be an exciting evening in the theater.

I met up with La Belle Dame, Christina D'Angelo, Talkin' Broadway's critic at large, and we dined prior to the show at Firebird, a restaurant recommended in our Restaurant Revue section...Hmmm! Not knowing the restaurant areas so well, I trusted our very own columnist, Marilyn Hanson, and I have to tell you I was not disappointed. The "Dame" will tell you about that on Thursday in Christina's World. On to Ragtime...

Into the Ford Center we went, and, when it was time to take our seats, it dawned on me that I had never seen Ragtime from the orchestra. I had always sat front mezzanine, my seating of choice. La Belle calls me "a front mezz whore". However, tenth row center orchestra is none too shabby, and it gave me a new perspective on the musical. The familiarity with the story and the score, plus being on top of the production, had me feeling that I was a part of the show in a strange way. I tapped my toes quite a lot and sang along silently to many songs. Christina and I even sang, "His name was Coalhouse Walker" to each other, smiling and enjoying the show.

I won't go into how much I love this show, as I'm sure you have all been aware of that for over a year now. Let me just say that it was so amazing to be so close and to hear Coalhouse, Sarah, Mother, Tateh, Brother, Emma, Houdini, and the rest of the cast in glorious voice that at times it was exhilarating and at other times absolutely emotionally draining.

During intermission, we headed down to the special lounge for those who pay the premium for seat location and the use of this lounge. Included are drinks and a souvenir program. It was nearly empty and, I thought, gee, all those programs going to waste. Surely, the people were in the theater but I guess they didn't want free drinks or programs, so I snagged a few... well, okay, quite a few. I had a little Bloomingdale's shopping bag with me, and so I stuffed it. I always pick up discarded Playbills as I leave the theater, so a bag is always handy. This time doubly so.

As always Ragtime was brilliant. We, of course, stood and cheered at the curtain call along with the entire audience. I found a few extra Playbills on the floor and threw them into my bulging little shopping bag. Next stop, backstage!

While waiting for permission to enter, Marrin Mazzie came out, and the first thing that strikes you is her beauty and the fact that she looks so young. I told her so as she autographed one of the programs. "Yes, people tell me that all the time", she chuckled. We were ushered into the theater and headed down a staircase. On the way down, I spotted Steven Sutcliffe, and we chatted briefly. He performed brilliantly, and I told him so. At the bottom of the stairs we were met by Allyson Tucker, an ensemble member. Allyson was very friendly and showed us all around the maze of the Ford Center.

One thing you immediately notice is how organized everything is and how clean it is, too. We walked into the make-up room, and down on the end was a board hanging on the wall with all the men's mustaches. On another were the women's wigs, and it was fun to guess which wig was whose and for which scene. "Oh, that's Audra in 'Sarah Brown Eyes'. Oh, and that's Mother's in 'Atlantic City'. In a covered area were all of Mother's hats, and in another area were the latex masks for "Crime of the Century". In another area, one locker was simply labeled Spare Shoes.

The Sound Engineer walked by with a tray of body microphones, and I discussed 'sweat' with him and how the mics are hidden on the bodies. They're quite expensive and can be shorted out quite easily if enough sweat gets in the wiring.

As we walked through the costume room, we were overwhelmed by the number of costumes, all neatly hung on racks. Allyson pointed out different areas as we walked up to the stage. "That ladder goes up to the back of the stage for the 'Amereke' number."

Standing on the stage of the Ford Center was something else. The stage is raked very steep, and you stand there at an angle. Since there is no curtain, I looked out into the orchestra, gazing into the seats, and then to the two balconies of this gorgeous theater.

Looking up into the backstage wing space, I could see an amazing array of scenery, all neatly in its place. It's compact, without an inch to spare.

Allyson and Christina were yakking away, and I got this idea; I walked downstage to the edge of the apron, looked out into the imaginary audience and yelled "Warn the Duke!" Two startled cleaners looked up at me. I mean, I just had to.

And then the shopping bag broke, and all the programs spilled out onto the stage. I felt like a dork or a thief who has been caught redhanded. I thought "Oh gosh, a stagehand is going to see this and call Drabinsky and have me arrested or something." I knelt down to pick them up and, sure enough, I was doomed as I saw two hands helping me.

"Listen, I just collect them, and extras I auction off for charity, honest."

"So, you're who? Is it John, or V.J.?"

"Oh, well, John is okay, but I guess it really is V.J. Thanks."

After I was all settled and had the booty put away, I thanked my helper, and we just started Talkin' Broadway. I mean, no one introduced us. We just yakked away. But, then again, I've talked to a million people about theater throughout the years, and, since Broadway is our bond, names are not important.

I looked up in the wings, over stage left, and there was the Model T that Coalhouse drives on stage, suspended on wires. Wow, how organized, and this stage looks so small now that I am on it. From the audience, it looks huge.

"Is it really rough doing 8 shows a week? I mean, is one day off enough to rest?"

"No. It's hard especially with a raked stage. Allyson, how many were out tonight? Four? Five? And one day off is hardly time to rest up."

"Do you ever get bored doing this show? I mean, you've been with it for what, three years?"

"Bored? Never. How can you? With this material and the performers in it, it's very exciting, each and every night. I enjoy it very much."

"I can't believe this rake. It's pretty steep. I remember when Chita did Chicago way back in 1975, and, unlike the current production, that was on a raked stage. And, I've often thought how difficult it must be to dance on it, like in that "When Velma Takes The Stand " number. She does it with the chair, and I don't think audiences know how difficult that is on a flat stage, let alone a raked stage."

"When Allyson did Chicago on tour, she played Velma, and I asked Chita if she had any advice for her. She said, "Tell Allyson...Respect that chair...that chair is everything!"

"I love Chita. I knew her years ago..."

And the conversation went on for about 30 minutes. I looked at him. What a nice guy, picks up my programs, so friendly, great smile, sense of humor... sorta made me feel like Broadway family.

"Well, Christina, we gotta go. Thanks, Allyson, for the tour. It was great."

The four of us walked upstairs toward the exit (collecting Max, the dog, first).

"Give me some of those programs." Startled, I reached in the bag and handed him some. He reached into his breast pocket and pulled out a pen.

"Thanks. And thanks again, Allyson."

We left the husband and wife to the fans. He looked at the crowd as he came out, and they gathered around. They had waited almost an hour.

"You guys are like the Paparazzi", he jokingly said.

Allyson laughed as he began to sign autographs. Christina and I were halfway across the street. I turned, caught his eye, and waved.

"Thanks Stokes."

See you Thursday!

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