I am a big fan of The Little Theatre of Alexandria because of their consistency in presenting top-notch productions – which always run like clockwork – so I was disappointed that their opening night performance of Ragtime was, well, a little ragged. Knowing that momentum in their rehearsals was broken by the polar vortex and that Director Michael Kharfen will accept nothing but the best, I am confident that Ragtime will be honed to near-perfection by this week’s upcoming performances.
Ragtime, based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow and written for stage by Terrance McNally, with a stunningly gorgeous score by Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) is the story of assimilation in in the early 20th century, the same time that ragtime music gained popularity. The stark contrast between assimilation of immigrants and the continued persecution of Negroes is at the core of Ragtime. This is illustrated through the stories of three families, one white and wealthy, one poor immigrant Jew and his daughter, and a Negro musician, his mother of his son, and his supporters.
The staggering volumes of off-stage preparation and work by Set Designer J. Andrew Simmons, radiant lighting design by Ken and Patti Crowley, Crisp sound by Alan Wray and his assistants, Colorful costumes by Jean Schlichting and Kit SiIbley, and the stalwart work of Choreographer Ivan Davila and his Assistant Haley North was evident from the moment the curtain rose until the curtain went down. And special kudos to Musical Director Francine Krasowska and her fine musicians. LTA is known for its exquisite design and they continued the tradition here with Ragtime.
Many performers provided spellbinding moments. Two of my favorite were Malcolm Lee (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.) and Aerika Saxe (Sarah) who played lovers and parents who were separated and reunited. There was fine chemistry and a palpable connection between their characters and actors. In addition, Lee was equally deft in moments of tenderness in his duets with Saxe – “Sarah Brown Eyes” and “On the Wheels of a Dream.”
Janette Moman’s performance as Emma Goldman – a socialist worker advocate – was extremely believable and gave a strong performance. ‘The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square,’ showcased her vocal and acting strengths and gave face to the very real worker struggles and unionization in that era.
There were two very talented young actors on the stage in important roles and they both performed like veterans and with overflowing confidence – Brian McNamara (The Little Boy) and Lindsey Gattuso.
Among the ensemble, Sherrod Brown deserves special recognition for both his dance moves (he is the director of the Prince Rod Performance Company which specializes in contemporary dance) and vocal beauty, and he stood out among the crowd as one of Coalhouse’s main supporters.
Michael Gale, as Tateh/Baron Ashkenazy, gave a touching and heartfelt performance as an immigrant who, through ingenuity and hard work, realized the American Dream, while along the way leaving his Tallit, Tzitzit, beard, and yarmulke behind. The tenderness with which he sang ‘Gliding’ to his young daughter (Lindsey Gattuso) near the end of the first act, encompassed all of the hopes and dreams of the immigrants of that era, and was one of my favorite moments of the evening. He was equally effective in his duet, ‘Our Children,’ with Mother (Jennifer Lyons Pagnard), who also shone in her emotional solo, “Back to Before.”
Rodney Jackson struck just the right tone in his multiple short appearances as Booker T. Washington – urging tolerance and non-violence as a solution to the country’s racial and assimilation issues. In Ragtime, as in many periods and places, words were not strong enough to stem hate and violence.
I also enjoyed when Father (Shaun Moe) took his younger son (Ben Cherrington) to the baseball game in lieu of an explanation of what was happening in the world around them.The ensemble really hit the ball out of the park with their performance, which was a most welcome moment between the serious issues addressed by McNally in his fine book and Doctorow in his powerful novel.
Ragtime is the ultimate American musical filled with powerful emotions, an amazing Tony Award-winning score sung by LTA’s talented cast, in a visually stunning production.
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes, including one intermission.
Ragtime plays through February 15, 2014 at The Little Theatre of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. Currently, the run is sold out.