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On Jan. 12-17, Ragtime: The Musical Will Focus an Unsentimental Lens on Early 20th Century America

Chris Sams tickles the ivories as ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (photo by Scott Suchman)

Chris Sams tickles the ivories as ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (photo by Scott Suchman)

Were the Good Old Days really all that good for all segments of society? asks the joint Jan. 12-17 Broadway Series South and North Carolina Theatre presentation of the current North American tour of the 2009 Broadway revival of Ragtime: The Musical, produced by Phoenix Entertainment and staged by 2010 Tony Award® and Drama Desk Award nominated director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge and associate director and choreographer Josh Walden. The production features scenic design by Kevin Depinet, lighting design by Mike Baldassari, and sound design by Craig Cassidy.

The show stars Chris Sams as popular ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a proud African-American whose chance run-in with a group of racist firemen sets the main plot in motion and Leslie Jackson as Coalhouse’s girlfriend, Sarah. Kate Turner plays Mother, a white matriarch who befriends Sarah and her newborn baby; and Matthew Curiano portrays the immigrant paper-silhouette maker Tateh, who sells silhouette of celebrities on the street.

Ragtime is a magnificent PG-rated 1998 message musical based on the award-winning 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow (1931-2015). The show is set in and around New York City, New Rochelle, and Ellis Island, New York; Lawrence, Massachusetts; and Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the dawn of the 20th century.

In examining the dark side of the American Dream, circa 1902, Doctorow mixed compelling fictional characters from three typical turn-of-the-century families — one white Anglo-Saxon, one African-American, and one Eastern European immigrant — with historical personages such as automobile manufacturer Henry Ford (1863-1947), anarchist Emma Goldman (1869-1940), magician Harry Houdini (1874-1926), African-American educator and activist Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), banker and financier J.P. Morgan (1837-1913), President William Howard Taft (1857-1930), and others.

Chris Sams and Leslie Jackson play Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Sarah (photo by Scott Suchman)

Chris Sams and Leslie Jackson play Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Sarah (photo by Scott Suchman)

By skillfully blending fact and fiction, by bringing members of these three very different families together, E.L. Doctorow builds bridges of understanding between the races and between natives and immigrants, celebrates the indomitability of the human spirit, salutes American ingenuity, and condemns the persistent prejudices, such as racism and xenophobia, that still plague America at the dawn of the 21st century.

The musical version of Ragtime, with a brilliant book by Terrence McNally and a rousing score by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, had its world premiere in December 1996 in Toronto, where it won the 1997 Dora Mavor Moore Award for Best Musical.

This epic musical made its Broadway debut on Jan. 18, 1998 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and ran for 27 previews and 834 performances, before closing on Jan. 16, 2000. Ragtime earned 12 1998 Tony Award® nominations, including the nominations for Best Musical, Best Direction of a Musical [Frank Galati], and Best Choreography [Graciela Daniele]. It won four Tonys, including the awards for Best Book of a Musical [Terrence McNally] and Best Original Musical Score [Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens].

In their news release for this show, the North Carolina Theatre and Broadway Series South wrote:

“At the dawn of a new century, everything is changing … and anything is possible. Ragtime returns to the road in an all-new touring production that Bloomberg News hails as ‘explosive, thrilling and nothing short of a masterpiece.’ … [Ragtime: The Musical] is a timeless celebration of life — what it could and should be! The Hollywood Reporter declares that Ragtime is ‘one of the best musicals of recent decades.’ Its celebrated score includes ‘Wheels of a Dream,’ ‘Back to Before’ and the title song, ‘Ragtime.’ … [The] 2009 Broadway revival received rapturous reviews and is now on tour throughout North America.”

<em>Ragtime</em> captures the exuberance America at the dawn of the 20th century (photo by Scott Suchman)

Ragtime captures the exuberance America at the dawn of the 20th century (photo by Scott Suchman)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks:

Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre present RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12-15 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16 and 17 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $25.14-$107.14, except $20 Student Rush Tickets, sold — for cash only — one hour before curtain to students with ID.


Duke Energy Center Box Office: 919-996-8700 or (information only).

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or

BSS GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707,, or

NCT GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949;; or

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or

SHOW: and






Broadway Series South:,, and 2016 Season:

North Carolina Theatre:,,,, and NCT 2015-16 Season:





Ragtime (1975 novel): (Wikipedia).

E.L. Doctorow (novelist, 1931-2015): (official website) and (Internet Broadway Database), (Wikipedia).

Ragtime: The Musical (1996 Toronto, 1998 Broadway, 2003 West End, and 2009 Broadway revival): and (Music Theatre International), (1998) and (2009) (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Stephen Flaherty (music): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Lynn Ahrens (lyrics): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Terrence McNally (book): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Marcia Milgrom Dodge (director/choreographer): (official website), (tour bio), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)

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