Charing Cross Theatre – 25 October 2016
In what must have been the most ridiculously hot theatre ever, Rag Time was a searingly hot and vibrant production.
‘Ragtime The Musical’ is based on a novel written by E. L. Doctorow in 1975. It first appeared in musical format in 1996 and has since won a clutch of awards including Tony’s and a 2004 Olivier Award. Featuring music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the style varies from gospel to ragtime. The show is mostly sung through, with relatively little in the way of dialogue.
The story consists of vignettes involving what seem to be rather disparate characters. It all starts to become clearer after about 20 minutes or so as connections between the characters fall into place.
Featuring three families. Father (Earl Carpenter), Mother (Anita Louise Combe), Mother’s Younger Brother (Jonathan Stewart) and the Little Boy (Ethan Quinn and Samuel Peterson) find their sunny, complacent life in New Rochelle, N.Y., shadowed by the discovery of an abandoned black baby in their garden. That’s the offspring of Sarah (Jennifer Saayeng), a young cleaning woman, and a Harlem piano player, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ako Mitchell), whose presence will disrupt Father and his family in far-reaching ways they could never have anticipated.
The third arterial story follows Tateh (Gary Tushaw) and his daughter (Alannah Hinge and Riya Vyas) and the odyssey that takes them from the squalor of Lower East Side tenements to the heights of the nascent film industry. On the sidelines — annotating and occasionally redirecting the plot — are historical figures like the showgirl Evelyn Nesbit (Joanna Hickman), the escape artist Harry Houdini (Christopher Dickins), the radical Emma Goldman (Valerie Cutko) and the captains of industry J. P. Morgan (Anthony Cable) and Henry Ford (Tom Giles). With superb ensemble support throughout.
Director Thom Southerland’s genius is to turn the staging into a collective effort, with a large company of actor-musicians (there are 24 in all) flooding the Charing Cross stage and spilling regularly into the stalls, always maintaining rapt attention to the show’s musical intricacies and using the performers and instruments as staging posts.
It is a long show but it grabs your attention so much the time just flies by and the show really does leave you wanting more.