It was the music of something beginning.
An era exploding.
A century spinning.
In riches and rags,
And in rhythm and rhyme.
The people called it Ragtime.
Ragtime (the Musical) – based on the E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name – is a story of hope and disillusionment in the face of the American Dream. This dream is interpreted in many different ways by the many characters in the show, which opened at Trustus Theatre this past weekend. Ragtime opens during the “Progressive Era” in 1904. Industry is booming, and excitement is in the air. This air is filled with the strange, new, simple, and syncopated music of Ragtime. The music (by Stephen Flaherty) is catchy and tender, simple yet deep, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally.
Mother and Father have a kind, though sterile marriage. When Father, played by G. Scott Wild, heads off to explore the North Pole with Admiral Peary, Mother – played by Marybeth Gorman – is left to tend to their son, large house, and business affairs. When she digs up something very unusual in her garden, a chain of events are pushed into movement that will change the lives of her small family, as well as the communities around her.
Ragtime shines thanks to one of the most talented casts it could have possibly pulled together, consisting of many Columbia theatre veterans, as well as a few talented new faces. There are no weak links in this production. Terrance Henderson pulls double duty as the charismatic ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker and the show’s choreographer. Vicky Saye Henderson plays the radical anarchist, Emma Goldman, with gusto, Younger Brother – played by Kevin Bush – is passionate about finding something to be passionate about, and Scott Vaughan’s appearances as Houdini, though short, are very charming. Chip Stubbs delivers a beautiful standout performance as Tateh, with a voice that conveys all the determination, elation, and heartache of a poor immigrant father struggling to reconcile his dream of America with the reality of his new world. Stories are intertwined and alliances are made and broken. With so many characters and stories, you’re bound to find at least a few you can identify with.
If you call the Trustus Box Office hotline, a friendly recording will inform you that this show has over thirty actors in the cast – the most they’ve had onstage at one time. Upon hearing this, I must admit I was a little worried. When Trustus tries to put on a large-scale show, it usually ends up being a mixed bag. Their small stage can only hold so much spectacle, scenery, and cast members before things start to get cramped.
Fortunately, for director Chad Henderson, this particular big show doesn’t require a massive set or much spectacle beyond the talent of its actors. That’s not to say the set is unimpressive. Brandon McIver’s construction of his giant Statue of Liberty was well-documented on the Trustus Facebook page in the weeks before the opening. This, along with fragments of early 1900’s Americana, are evocative of the period and theme. The orchestra is small but skilled. The costumes are period-accurate and lovely.
Between Henderson’s (Chad) stage direction and Henderson’s (Terrance) choreography, the actors don’t seem confined or cramped at all. I would advise you to try to get a seat closer to the back as sight lines are a slight issue. I can’t help but wonder…Is the success of Ragtime just the beginning of a new era of larger-scale productions for Trustus? Are we ready for this “new music”?
~ Jillian Owens