The New Rep mounts a confident revival of the 1998 Tony
Award-winning musical about immigration, racism, and workers' rights in
early 20th-century New York.
"Ragtime." Produced by the New
Watertown, Mass. - May 05, 2006 - In E.L. Doctorow's
novel, ragtime is the syncopated rhythm of social change. The musical
makes use of the jaunty music as an inspiring motif. Like the book, the
musical interweaves fictional stories from three different worlds --
rich white gentility, poor Jewish immigrants, and struggling black
underclass. Sprinkled into the plot are real life celebrities of the
time, including Houdini and J.P. Morgan. Characters high and low, real
and unreal, form an anthem to the American melting pot and social
"Ragtime" may be set in New York early the last century, but it hits
plenty of hot buttons today, given the controversies over race after
Katrina, and the current fights on immigration policy. The show even
contains a believer in the American dream who transforms into a
terrorist. An African-American musician named Coalhouse Walker receives
no justice when his car is vandalized by whites -- his treatment turns
him into a killer.
Given this provocative material, it is a shame the show removes the
novel's irony. Without it, the musical becomes earnest entertainment,
darkness inevitably giving way to sentimental uplift. The ending
features members of the white, black, and Jewish families living
happily ever after in Hollywood, of all places.
Still, "Ragtime" is a lively grab bag of stereotypes. The score,
written by Stephen Flaherty, provides some enjoyable tunes, especially
the jazzier numbers. If only the lyrics, by Lynn Ahrens, were less
The New Repertory Theatre production, which features over thirty
performers, is never less than impressive. Director Rick Lombardo,
choreographer Kelli Edwards and the cast do things that were impossible
in their old tiny Newton stage. Their enthusiasm at stretching their
talents is infectious. The actors perform on, and move about, large
platforms on wheels; more than ten performers shimmy and shake at once
during the dance numbers. Large photographs are projected on the sides
of the stage. On opening night the shakiest element was an eight-piece
orchestra that rattled and squeaked.
The generally fine cast includes standout performances and singing led
by Leigh Barrett as the white matriarch.
"Ragtime" is a wanna-be American epic that overreaches. But with this
confident production, the New Rep considerably extends its reach.
The New Repertory
Theatre production of "Ragtime" has been extended through May 28,
2006 at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown, Mass. For
tickets, call 617-923-8487.