Tuesday, April 23, 2024
EntertainmentLocalSan FranciscoTheatre

Classic, relevant musical, Ragtime returns to Bay Area

Ragtime is perhaps one of my most beloved stories of all time and TheatreWorks’ new production is playing until June 26.

The 1981 Oscar-nominated movie ranks among my favorites and the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical is a production I followed from Toronto to Los Angeles to the Great White Way.

So the Bay Area’s TheatreWorks must know the bar is set very high when they opted to produce this show in their 51st season. Whether its sheer fortitude or confidence, TheatreWorks’ Ragtime is now playing through June 26 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

If they thought they were taking a gamble, it paid off as they ended up with a Royal Flush. Even though the source material, a novel by E.L. Doctorow, is decades old – the story is as fresh as ever.

Ragtime focuses on a proud African American man who just wants to be treated like everyone else. The trouble is it takes place is early 1900s and “his kind” should be a subservient house boy or a slave. His pride leads to conflict and hate crimes.

Sharing the arch of the story is prejudice faced by Jewish immigrants all intertwined with a divided white family and you have quite a tale – set to beautiful songs from Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, who won Tonys as well for their work as did book writer Terrence McNally (who is theatre royalty).

Heading the magnificent cast is Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker Jr. Having to follow in the footsteps of Broadway’s Brian Stokes Mitchell, perhaps one of the best singer/actors ever to grace the stage, is no easy feat. But Gatling takes command from his first moment on stage. His voice is also a beautiful instrument where he is able to emote in both quieter verses and show-stopping moments.

Speaking of showstoppers, Leslie Ivy, making her TheatreWorks debut, is a soloist in a song that ends the first act and that haunting, powerful interpretation lead to a standing ovation. Christine Dwyer also has standout moments as Mother, in particular with her second act song. 

Wilson Chin’s sets were seamless yet sparse. But well used and thought out. There is one moveable set-piece, won’t spoil it, that creates a wow moment.  These sets were complimented by the lighting of Pamela Z. Gray, which enhanced the tension in any scene.
Further, B. Modern’s costumes were wondrous and spot-in and added a lot to the period piece.

TheatreWorks is one of the breeding grounds for Broadway-bound productions. Memphis, Daddy Long Legs and Summer of ’42 come to mind.
Those shows were all originals. But the quality of this production and its superior production values and cast should have Broadway eyeing to do a revival of Ragtime and use the talent we have in this production.

If you want a true taste of a Broadway musical, without the cost of airfare, go to www.theatreworks.org.

Kevin M. Thomas

Kevin M. Thomas, or @ReelKev, is an arts blogger and entertainment reporter. In addition to his own website, www.reelkev.com and ReelKev YouTube channel, Kevin used to be the LGBT arts writer for Examiner.com and contributes to progressivepulse.com as well as a semi-regular on San Francisco's cable TV show, "10 Percent."

Kevin M. Thomas has 156 posts and counting. See all posts by Kevin M. Thomas

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