Ragtime – a roaring good show
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Thursday, Oct 18, 2012 12:45 pm
Two One-Way Tickets to Broadway
Oct. 19 to 27
La Cité Francophone Theatre
8629 -91 Street
Tickets: $28. Call 780-420-1757 or purchase online at www.tixonthesquare.ca
At the turn of a new century, anything is possible. Dreams blossom, idealists step forward, and a nation stretches and matures with its newfound successes and controversies.
Two One-Way Tickets to Broadway presents the Edmonton debut of Ragtime, an ambitious musical drama written by the award winning composer-lyricist team of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and noted playwright Terrence McNally.
Set in the volatile melting pot at the dawn of 20th century New York, it opens Thursday, Oct. 19 for a nine-day run at La Cité francophone.
Based on E.L. Doctorow’s distinguished novel, Ragtime serves up a time of revolutionary change as everyone from the upper classes down to the poorest immigrant was seizing their share of the American dream. It is a tale of love lost and won, lives lost and a country grappling to define itself.
This bold portrait weaves together the lives of three families: an upper crust WASP family, a talented Harlem pianist and his common-law wife, and a Latvian-Jewish immigrant newly arrived to America with his young daughter, living in the Lower East Side.
“The music is stunning. The scenery is lush. It’s haunting and it shows a range of lifestyles. The music runs the gamut from ballads to snappy, syncopated up-tempo numbers and the songs do a beautiful job of pushing the story forward. The tunes are so hummable and you walk away singing,” says director Barbara Mah.
Almost in the next instant she confesses that Ragtime has been on her bucket list since she first listened to a concept album and saw the production on Broadway.
A fan of meaty musicals, the freelance director is excited to be digging her teeth into such a well-muscled production.
“It deals with so much subject matter: racism, immigration, the industrial revolution, child labour and social upheaval.”
In tandem with the jaunty syncopated rhythms and piercing piano rags we meet three of the main characters. Mother is the WASP matriarch who becomes a symbol of white social conscience. Coalhouse Walker is the brilliant pianist that faces discrimination, sets out to fight for his rights and for his troubles “is shot down like a dog.” And finally there is Tateh, the Latvian-Jew who keeps pushing and won’t give in to poverty.
While the major characters are fictional composites, the production is sprinkled with a variety of real-life celebrity cameos from the era including Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman and Henry Ford.
“They are used for comic relief and they just provide context. They allow the play to be anchored in the period.”
Sturgeon County’s foxy Nadine Veroba (My Cleopatra) landed the singular role of Evelyn Nesbit, the first pinup girl of the times. This contentious beauty achieved national notoriety when her husband shot her long-time lover.
Veroba, who did just a general read hoping for a role, is enthralled with her new character. While her last role as Cleopatra demanded a regal presence, Evelyn is more comical.
“She’s over-the-top and loves to be at the centre of attention. She’s sexy and dresses provocatively. She’s also funny, high energy and is a carefree character,” says Veroba, whose song Crime of the Century helps characterize the celebrity culture of the times.
In addition, several St. Albert actors strutting their stuff in non-speaking roles are Lucy Haines, Josh Languedoc and Kirsten Kirsch.
Ragtime stakes a claim as the soul of a nation. It is not a happily-ever-after story.
As Mah puts it, “But the characters learn and grow as ultimately happens around us in the world.”