“Ragtime, The Musical” with book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is the story of the blending of America through love, tragedy, comedy, betrayal, but mostly music.
And what music it is. With an amazing cast to sing the audience to a rousing cheer.
Tacoma Musical Playhouse, under the expert direction of Jon Douglas Rake, has struck gold once more with a story about all of us. It is the quintessential coming to America piece. Rake’s direction and choreography have made “Ragtime” a highlight of TMP’s season.
The show opens with the residents of New Rochelle, New York – a turn-of-the century WASP neighborhood if ever there was one – finding that “Negroes” are coming to their town. Then they find that they will also be deluged with the immigrant pogrom dregs of Europe. What to do? Ignore it – nothing will change.
Father decides to travel to the North Pole with Admiral Peary. He bids farewell to Mother and Mother’s Younger Brother, Little Boy and Grandfather, saying he’ll return in a year. Not to worry – nothing will change.
Coalhouse Walker moves in with his Harlem family of friends, followed by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant with his Little Girl. Nothing will change.
Mother finds a black baby in her back yard; decides to keep it and takes in his mother Sarah as well.
Something is changing.
The story metamorphoses into the love story between Coalhouse and Sarah; the finding herself of Mother; the coming of age of Mother’s Younger Brother; and the following the American Dream by Tateh – all with the aid of a cast of 52!
It is played out on a set designed by Will Abrahamse which resembles a bridge trestle yet is easily recognizable as the various venues needed within the play. There are a few fragmented set pieces added where needed – including a Model T Ford.
John Chenault does the lighting, which is more dynamic in the second act than the first.
The wonderful costumes are created or gathered by Margot Webb, Grace Stone and Dianne Boerger.
Jeffrey Stvrtecky does a great job as musical director and leads the orchestra of 12, which includes Judy Lantz, Diz Carroll and Don Miller on reeds; Mick Crosby and Ashish Meloottu on trombone; Michael Bennett at the keyboard; Michael Leavens, Jason Garcia and Rick Leffler on trumpet; Mark Willis and Chris Caneva play French Horn; and Iris McBride is on drums.
There are 33 members of the Ensemble: Gabriela Aleman, Donnie Anderson, Angelica Barksdale, Christen Blackwell, Matthew Burgess, Wendy Cohen, Carl Cooper, Parker Dean, Elena Easley, Alex Gallo, D’Najere Greenwood, Natalie Hanson, Alex Harrington, Lindsay Hovey, Mary Chloe Lee, Chiquita Levy, Julia Luna, Jamie Lund, Cait Martonik, Michael McLaren, Angela Morgan, Lauren Nance, Cass Neumann, Stephen Nishida, Angie Shephard, Pur’Tonya Wade, Stephen Walker and Cherish Winston-Taylor.
Six ensemble members are supernumeraries, as well. They are Christopher Ellis as Stanford White; Kathy Kluska as Kathleen; Cameron Brown is Willie Conklin; Brittany Griffins is Brigit; DuWayne Andrews is Lawyer; and certainly not least, Sheila Blackwell as Sarah’s Friend, who blows the audience away with her delivery of “Till We Reach That Day.”
Cameo performances of celebrities of the era are Laird Thornton as Booker T. Washington; Stephen Bucheit as Houdini; Darrel Shephard as J. P. Morgan; Brad Lubken is Henry Ford; Lark Orvick-Moore is Emma Goldman; and Alyson Jacobs-Lake is Evelyn Nesbit. Though all are terrific in their roles, the real standouts are Thornton, who sports a wonderful singing voice as the Black educator, Washington; and especially Orvick-Moore as the anarchist and political activism, Goldman.
This entourage comprises an extremely competent supporting body of actors, singers and dancers.
Two of the principle characters are double cast – the parts of Little Boy and Little Girl have fledgling thespians appearing at alternate performances (consult the box office for exact dates and times). Opening night, Little Boy was played quite nicely by Hershal Vuksich; Austin Brooks will perform when Vuksich does not. Charming Paloma Sharangpani was Little Girl opening night; Emily Johnson takes over alternately.
George McClure is a hoot at the cantankerous Grandfather; he offers comic relief when needed.
F. James Raasch plays a naïve Father, who finally realizes he must change to keep up with life. Raasch has a good singing voice which really shines with “Journey On.”
Nancy Herbert is Mother. She is right for the role; the epitome of the lovely, proper lady but willing and almost eager to change in a changing world. Her singing is equal to her acting.
Steve Barnett is Mother’s Younger Brother. This might be the best thing Barnett has done. He makes his character strong in his convictions and his singing is at his best.
Micheal O’Hara is unparalleled as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who looks for and finds his dream for his Little Girl and himself. Tateh is the proof of America’s promise and O’Hara plays him perfectly to the hilt in acting and singing.
Stacie Calkins is Sarah. Calkins has equaled her performance in “The Color Purple.” She has created a loving, giving, fighting Sarah and sung every word with the clear understanding of each lyric in a voice that exhilarates every audience member.
Eric Clausell is Colehouse Walker, Jr. Clausell is a formidable figure on stage moving with a fluid grace and gentility. His singing voice and acting ability is as commanding as his physical presence.
“Ragtime, The Musical” continues performances through August 4 Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Call the box office for reservations or more information – 253-565-6867 or go online to www.tmp.org.
One more admonition: Don’t go to Tacoma Musical Playhouse at 7116 Sixth Avenue in Tacoma to see “Ragtime!” If you do, you’ll be quite alone!
All performances of “Ragtime, The Musical” are at the Curtis High School theatre/auditorium at 8425 40th Street, W. in University Place.
According to Managing Artistic Director Jon Rake, the TMP theatre is undergoing a major overhaul and redesign! The stage is being widened; an orchestra pit is arriving, among many more changes. This $1.2 million endeavor is greatly due to multiple donations from private philanthropic organizations. The rest is from corporate sponsors and theatre-goers like you.
Rake says they are just $18,000 short of their goal. If you would like your “Name in Lights” or be part of the “Walk of Fame,” contact Diana at TMP for more information.
The renovations are promised to be completed for TMP 2013 – 2014 season, which begins October 18 with the mammoth hit opera “Les Misérables.” This long-running show is followed by “Shout!” then “The Man of La Mancha,” “Annie,” “La Cage Aux Folles” and finishes in July, 2014, with “Young Frankenstein.” Don’t miss this 20th Anniversary season.