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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 27, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 43
Glorious Ragtime a must-see musical!
Arts & Entertainment
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Glorious Ragtime a must-see musical!

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

RAGTIME, THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through November 5


Ragtime is the newest production currently at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre. It is what is called a 'Must See.' It is a sweeping epic of a musical that is not only beautiful to watch, but also has glorious music and a fantastic cast to make this show excel in every way. It carefully blends the real and the fiction into a tapestry showing important events and characters taking place in American history.

The story takes place in New York and several surrounding areas, in the year 1906, and America is quickly growing as a country. Three groups of people are introduced with main characters to represent each of them. The Family (known only as Mother, Father, etc....) represents the affluent WASP community living in New Rochelle, New York. Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah represent the African-American community of Harlem, finding their place within the American dream. Tateh and his daughter represent the Immigrant populace flooding into America from Eastern and Western Europe. The musical shows how all three groups interact, for better and for worse, in a grand and epic way to find their corner of Americana.

The musical not only shows the sweeping landscapes of turn-of-the-century America, but also blends the lines of fiction and history. Several real personalities appear throughout the show interacting with their fictional counterparts. Henry Ford and JP Morgan are represented as the 'wealthy' upper class; the unlimited success anyone can achieve if they work at it. The anarchist Emma Goldman pleas for the equality of the struggling lower classes. Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbit show us the appeal of sensational and scandalous entertainment that captivated/inspired the general public. Booker T. Washington shows the balance of the educated, upper class African-American opposed to those experiencing prejudices and hardships on a much grander scale. Although their interactions with the story are strictly fictional, these true people help further the storyline.

The results are not only a great musical, but also a wealth of information on American history.

There is not an unimportant character or actor in this ensemble. Everyone contributes to make this show fantastic in every way. Billie Wildrick plays Evelyn Nesbit in a wonderfully charming presentation. The real life original 'Gibson' girl was the center of one of the first 'Crimes of the Century,' after which she transitioned to media star. Ms. WIldrick's voice shines in the vaudevillian mockery of her own sensationalism. Eric Ankrim plays Houdini (and also 'Willie Conklin'). Mr. Ankrim is a pleasure to watch on stage, as he always seems to bring that 'something extra' to any role he plays. Andi Alhadeff is absolutely fantastic as Emma Goldman. She completely embraces the spirit of the Anarchist, fighting for the rights of her fellow immigrants.

'Younger Brother' is played by Matthew Kacergis. Mr. Kacergis is excellent as the lost young man, who finds his purpose from Emma Goldman's speeches. His voice roars with strength during the awakening song, 'The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square.' 'Father' is portrayed by Louis Hobson who does a very good job showing the staunchness of the newly emerging Middle Class, resisting change and trying to provide for his family.

Danyel Fulton takes on the heartbreaking role of 'Sarah.' The full emotional range Ms. Fulton displays nightly on this stage is absolutely amazing! She lets Sarah charm us with her innocence, ambition, and fears. When Ms. Fulton starts to sing 'Your Daddy's Son' she reaches out to the audience in a hauntingly seductive way, until she lets herself go. Then the audience is taken on a rollercoaster of emotion that is rarely seen, seldom sung, and one of those moments in theatre that makes us want to stop, rewind and experience it all over again. The powerful feelings the song stirs up are largely due to the pure talent Ms. Fulton possesses (the other credit goes to the songwriters).

Douglas Lyons is Coalhouse Walker, Jr.. Mr. Lyons is excellent as the Ragtime pianist trying to find his piece of the American pie, only to find bigoted responses. Mr. Lyons doesn't miss a single beat showing Coalhouse's transformation from an in-love optimist to a bitter revolutionary, forced to fight for his own justice. His voice is powerful from the optimistic 'Wheels of a Dream' to the sentimentality of 'Sarah Brown Eyes' to his own proclamation of 'Let Them Hear You.' He captures the audience, exposing them to the glory and grit of his journey, bringing us along every step of the way.

Joshua Carter portrays Tateh, the Jewish immigrant from Latvia, and he delivers an absolute perfect performance. He skillfully shows how the scared man desperately tries everything to make a better life for his daughter in the new world. Tateh struggles from the sweatshops, to the fear of losing his child, to finally finding his own opportunity to reinvent himself, and Mr. Carter takes us along for an incredible journey. His voice empowers the songs from tender ballad, 'Gliding' to the comical 'Buffalo Nickel Photoplay Inc'. Mr. Carter delivers the goods.

The very talented Kendra Kassebaum brilliantly plays 'Mother.' Ms. Kassebaum is not afraid to show us the fear and confusion of a woman trying to remain loyal to her husband's vision, while struggling to do what she believes is right from her own conscience. From the very beginning of her journey (literally with the song 'Journey On'), Ms. Kassebaum expresses the full change from obedient housewife to a woman of independent thought. Her singing voice never wavers from the hesitant confusion of 'What Kind of Woman' to the strongly defiant anthem of 'Back to Before.'. Ms. Kassebaum does an excellent job of showing the great transformation of her character's journey.

A definite nod needs to be directed to Michael Hoover, the show's Scenic Designer. The scenery is extremely minimalistic, optimizing a large wall with several doors to open as needed, and large ladders on wheels to represent motion or position of standing. In another scene, a large flowering branch hangs over the stage giving the feel of a picnic. Other than that, it is only the barest of necessities that are presented - or that are needed. Mr. Hoover recognizes that there is no reason to overshadow the full effects of the incredible songs and the efforts of the very talented cast.

Ragtime is an excellent show and the 5th Avenue Theatre does an incredible job. If anything negative should be said about it, it is that the majority of the songs are large, sweeping mantras making the audience want to leap to their feet as if at a rally. The music and songs are excellent, several that will stay with you long after the curtain falls. The storyline is compelling, if not by being historical fiction then by telling a tale of morality and justice that are paralleling events still happening today.

Don't miss this show!

Ragtime is based on the novel of the same name, by E.L. Doctorow. It was adapted for the eponymous 1981 film (including Mary Steenburgen as Mother, Mandy Patinkin as Tateh, Debbie Allen as Sarah, Elizabeth McGovern as Evelyn Nesbit, and Norman Mailer, Fran Drescher, Jeff Daniels and James Cagney as various others) and nominated for 8 Academy Awards. The stage musical opened on Broadway December 1997 and ran for over 850 performances. Stephen Flaherty composed the music, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens (who also teamed to write 'Once on This Island' and 'School House Rock'), and a book by Terrence McNally. The show starred Marin Mazzie (Mother), Brian Stokes Mitchell (Coalhouse Walker), Lynette Perry (Evelyn Nesbit) and Judy Kaye (Emma Goldman), and was originally nominated for 14 Tony Awards in 1998. Ragtime won four Tony Awards - including Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Audra McDonald as Sarah).

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Glorious Ragtime a must-see musical!
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