Ragtime Musical Review - The Show of the Century

Chicago’s Griffin Theatre Company concludes its 2016-17 Season with a newly-orchestrated chamber version of the Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime, reimagined by director Scott Weinstein with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman, music direction by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris and choreography by William Carlos Angulo. With 20 actors, two pianos and a wind instrument, RAGTIME features a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. RAGTIME will play May 27 – extended to July 22, 2017, at The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago.

 

 

 

(center, l to r) Laura McClain, Ben Miller and Larry Baldacci with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

Ragtime features Laura McClain as Mother, Denzel Tsopnang as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Jason Richards as Tateh, Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Ben Miller as The Little Boy, Autumn Hlava as The Little Girl, Matt Edmonds as Younger Brother, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, Scott Allen Luke as Father, Neala Barron as Emma Goldman, Caitlin Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Jonathan Schwart as Henry Ford, Joe Capstick as Harry Houdini, Larry Baldacci as Grandfather, Danielle Davis as Sarah’s Friend, Courtney Jones as Kathleen/Brigit and others, with an ensemble including Marcellus Burt, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely and Juwon Tyrel Perry.

 

 

The cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime is set at the dawn of a new century where the lives of three distinct American families from different backgrounds intersect in their search for the American dream. Part history lesson—part family saga, this stirring musical asks us to think about racism, immigration, social injustice, wage inequality and the role of women in society in a changing America.

 

 

(center) Caitlin Collins with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

(center) Katherine Thomas with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

Ragtime is one of my favorite musicals. It is a timeless story and its century-plus themes resonate even today. The musical’s beautiful rag music and memorable well-known numbers such as the title song "Ragtime", along with lovers Sarah and Coalhouse Walker Jr.’s heart-tugging numbers," Daddy’s Son", "Wheels of a Dream", and "Sarah Brown Eyes", all communicate in our modern world that were are all the same, no matter what our race, gender or religion, and that love endures over hate.

 

Denzel Tsopnang and Katherine Thomas in Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

The musical was brought to life for me with an extremely talented cast of actors and singers, many of whom performed multiple roles in the show, along with playing instruments for the musical numbers. With a cast of only twenty performers, very few instruments and a small stage setting, Ragtime challenges the way one thinks of the outside world and how one questions life in general.

 

 

The staging and set design were simple on the small stage but very effective. It was a circular theater with the audience seated completely around it. The actors throughout the show would sing to us in the seats and move freely around the theater. One of the best scenes where this is demonstrated is when Father (Scott Allen Luke) and Ben Miller (The Little Boy) attend a baseball game. There is no actual field with players, but actors dressed as a baseball-watching, rowdy crowd, sit amongst the actual theater audience, singing, shouting, and spitting tobacco! 

 

 

(center) Denzel Tsopnang with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

Creative costumes and props were utilized onstage, such as two lights and the piano for Coalhouse’s T-Model Ford, or Evelyn Nesbitt’s swing.

 

 

Among my favorite performers were Denzel Tsophang (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.) and Katherine Thomas (Sarah), as the doomed African American lovers who have a baby son, Laura McClain as a strong wife and friend, Mother, and Neala Barron as the outspoken civil rights leader,  immigrant Emma Goldman. Among other tender moments were shared with Latvian immigrants, fresh off of Ellis Island, Jason Richards (Tateh) and Autumn Hlava (The Little Girl), who come to America in search of a better, more prosperous life.

 

 

(left to right) Autumn Hlava and Jason Richards in Griffin Theatre Company’s production of RAGTIME, directed by Scott Weinstein

 

 

 

No matter how different all of the characters in Ragtime are, or the backgrounds they come from, they all share the same goal and dream: to provide a new, happy, prosperous life and future in America for themselves, their family and their people. These themes ring true today, and are demonstrated throughout Ragtime, the show of the century.

 

 

 

Photos: Michael Brosilow

 

 

Tickets are currently available at the website or by calling (866) 811-4111.

 

 

Location: The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

 

 

Dates:

 

Regular run: Thursday, June 8 – Sunday, July 16, 2017

 

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm.

Tickets: Previews $30. Regular run $39. Students, seniors & veterans $34 ($25 previews).

 

 

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