Oct. 24, 2012 - Issue #888: Winter Guide 2012
RagtimeUntil Sat, Oct 27 (7:30 pm)
Directed by Barbara Mah
La Cite Theatre, $28
No matter which social or ethnic circle a person belonged to in America in 1906, no one was exempt from some struggle or another.
Ragtime, the Tony Award-winner based on the book by EL Doctorow, is revived by the cast of Two ONE-WAY Tickets To Broadway with astounding energy, polish and flair. The story sets up three groups of characters in pre-First World War America: the middle-class white folks of New Rochelle, the repressed and ostracized black people of Harlem and the European immigrants fleeing poverty and hardship in their home countries—only to find more of the same, at least at first.
The sheer size of the cast and scale of the production was originally meant for the grandiose stages of Broadway, but director Barbara Mah has succeeded in creating a commendable revival of the piece at La Cite. The simple set is used to its full advantage, aided by the use of props, visuals and sound to suggest the feel of turn-of-the-century New York City. A live orchestra also packs a punch, delivering a much more dynamic musical presence than a simple audio track could achieve.
With the help of the orchestra and a talented cast of vocalists, the music of Ragtime is delivered with top-notch quality. Each song is full of unwavering emotion and conviction, bringing the audience through the struggles and events that cause the three worlds to collide. The multicultural cast tackles tough themes including racism, which has politically incorrect phrases being flung about by different characters to add a sense of realism to the piece, but is still uncomfortable to hear nonetheless.
However, that's the point: to give conviction to the story and depict how truly destructive racism can be, because despite decades separating Ragtime with the present day, it's not a thing of the past. On top of this is murder, heartbreak, love and hope for a better life: a lot for one cast to tackle, but this one does it well.
Among the lively cast is Coalhouse Walker Jr, (Orville Charles Cameron) a ragtime pianist from Harlem with mounting success who is trying to win back Sarah (Cherisse Browne), who, unknown to him, has given birth to his son. Cameron's charismatic and heartfelt portrayal of Coalhouse captures the struggles he faces and his powerful, soulful voice is perfectly suited for the vocal demands of his character. Similarly powerful performances are delivered by Nicole English as Mother and Martin Galba as Tateh, a struggling European immigrant who desperately wants a better life for himself and his young daughter. The addition of historical characters such as Evelyn Nesbit, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and Booker T Washington help anchor the story to a time and place, as well as contribute to the realism of the story's themes.
The only time the production faltered was when spoken lines were required during some of the large musical numbers, as some characters were difficult to hear over the orchestra. However, it's a minor factor in an overall entertaining revival of a classic. vueweekly.com comments: powered by Disqus
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