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Ragtime: The Musical at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium Does the Late E.L. Doctorow Proud

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

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

In 1975, E.L. Doctorow published the smash-hit novel Ragtime, which peered telescopically into the racial, cultural, class conscious, and anti-immigrant state of the nation during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century. In so doing, it shone the harsh light of reality on our lack of real maturity in those areas since. Doctorow’s observations remain viable today, and Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre‘s production of Ragtime: The Musical finely hones the edginess of the show.

The show tells the three intertwined stories of an upper-class white folks, safe and protected in their lifestyle and station; a learned, proud “negro” musician who would not “ingratiate himself in the fashion of his race”; and an immigrant, Eastern European Jew who ascends from cutting out silhouettes to finding a new and prosperous life for himself and his daughter.

Scattered amongst these fictional characters are a passel of real historical figures, including Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, Admiral Peary, Matthew Henson, Sanford White, and Harry K. Thaw and Evelyn Nesbit (“The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing”).

Terrence McNally wrote the book, Stephen Flaherty is responsible for the music, and Lynn Ahrens wrote the lyrics of this musical rendition of Doctorow’s novel. Marcia Milgrom Dodge has precisely and imaginatively directed and choreographed this touring production, with complicated, stylized and symbolic dances, creative and sudden scene changes, and a fast pace that kept us on the edges of our seats.

Scenic designer Kevin Depinet’s use of moveable staircases to establish locations and hierarchies among sets of peoples is powerful and exciting. Mike Tutaj’s projections serve to expand the story, from the Statue of Liberty to the Atlantic City seacoast; and costumer Gail Baldoni’s colorful period costumes for the various strata of society are realistic and speak volumes about their characters.

Kate Turner (left), Troy Bruchwalski (center), and Donald Coggin (right) star as Mother, Father, and Younger Brother (photo by Scott Suchman)

Kate Turner (left), Troy Bruchwalski (center), and Donald Coggin (right) star as Mother, Father, and Younger Brother (photo by Scott Suchman)

Coalhouse Walker Jr. is played with gentle exuberance by Chris Sams, whose voice is smooth and mellow as mahogany. Tateh, the Latvian immigrant, has charm and vivacity as done by Matthew Curiano, whose portrayal of Jewish patois is right off old 2nd Avenue, New York City. It’s wonderful!

Kate Turner delivers a stirring performance as Mother, who courageously takes in a “negro” infant she finds in her garden, and then finds and takes in the child’s mother. Her powerful voice is up to handling the heart-breaking “What Kind of Woman.”

Donald Coggin is Mother’s Younger Brother, the upstart of the family, with wildly progressive ideas and a penchant for the notorious Evelyn Nesbit. Coggin perfectly portrays the underlying trepidation of a young man out of step with the times, in a time when that was more frowned upon than most of us are familiar with.

Coalhouse Walker, Jr.’s girlfriend, Sarah, is played by Leslie Jackson, who brings to the role a powerful voice that matches her prideful character.

The large and varied cast is precise in voice and step and a joy to watch, and they bring us a peek into this country a hundred years ago that still resonates in terms of societal relationships. Ragtime: The Musical should remind us that there always seems to be an ethnic group forced to occupy the stratified bottom.

Matthew Curiano and Cara Myers star as Tateh and his Little Girl (photo by Scott Suchman)

Matthew Curiano and Cara Myers star as Tateh and his Little Girl (photo by Scott Suchman)

SECOND OPINION: Jan. 13th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh review by Jeffrey Kare: http://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Review-RAGTIME-National-Tour-at-North-Carolina-Theatre-20160113; Jan. 13th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/ragtime/Event?oid=4907722; and Jan. 10th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article53990820.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 12th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, the Jan. 14th review by Jesse R. Gephart, and the Jan. 14th review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/on-jan-12-17-ragtime-the-musical-will-focus-an-unsentimental-lens-on-early-20th-century-america/, http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/ragtimes-story-is-still-relevant-despite-uneven-staging-and-should-be-seen-at-raleigh-memorial-auditorium/, and http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2016/01/ragtime-the-musicals-acting-singing-and-staging-are-strong-and-well-executed/, respectively.)

Broadway Series South and the North Carolina Theatre present RAGTIME: THE MUSICAL at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 14 and 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.

BOX OFFICE:

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

NCT Box Office: 919-831-6941, ext. 6944, or http://www.nctheatre.com/tickets/season-tickets.

BSS GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-996-8707, group@raleighconvention.com, or http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south/group-sales.

NCT GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-831-6941, ext. 6949; groups@nctheatre.com; or http://nctheatre.com/groups.

Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115203/872829.

SHOW: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/event/ragtime-5922 and http://nctheatre.com/shows/ragtime.

VIDEO PREVIEWS: http://www.ragtimeontour.com/media.html.

THE TOUR: http://www.ragtimeontour.com/ and http://www.phoenix-ent.com/productions/ragtime/index.html.

TOUR CAST: http://www.ragtimeontour.com/cast.html.

TOUR CREATIVE TEAM: http://www.ragtimeontour.com/creative.html.

PRESENTERS:

Broadway Series South: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south, https://www.facebook.com/broadwayseriessouthraleigh, and https://twitter.com/BroadwaySouth.BSS 2016 Season: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/broadway-series-south.

North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/, https://www.facebook.com/nctheatre, https://twitter.com/nctheatre, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_Carolina_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/nctheatre. NCT 2015-16 Season: http://nctheatre.com/show-season/201516-season.

VENUE: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/venue/memorial-auditorium.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.dukeenergycenterraleigh.com/parking.

OTHER LINKS:

Ragtime (1975 novel): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime_%28novel%29 (Wikipedia).

E.L. Doctorow (novelist, 1931-2015): http://www.eldoctorow.com/ (official website) and http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/10137 (Internet Broadway Database), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._L._Doctorow (Wikipedia).

Ragtime: The Musical (1996 Toronto, 1998 Broadway, 2003 West End, and 2009 Broadway revival): http://www.mtishows.com/ragtime-version-1 and http://www.mtishows.com/ragtime-version-2 (Music Theatre International), http://www.ibdb.com/Show/View/7352 (1998) and http://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/484345 (2009) (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ragtime_%28musical%29 (Wikipedia).

Stephen Flaherty (music): http://www.ahrensandflaherty.com/ (official website), http://www.ragtimeontour.com/creative.html (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/11668 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Flaherty (Wikipedia).

Lynn Ahrens (lyrics): http://www.ahrensandflaherty.com/ (official website), http://www.ragtimeontour.com/creative.html (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/7450 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Ahrens (Wikipedia).

Terrence McNally (book): http://www.terrencemcnally.com/ (official website), http://www.ragtimeontour.com/creative.html (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/8828 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrence_McNally (Wikipedia).

Marcia Milgrom Dodge (director/choreographer): http://www.marciamilgromdodge.com/ (official website), http://www.ragtimeontour.com/creative.html (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/109655 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcia_Milgrom_Dodge (Wikipedia).

EDITOR’S NOTE:

Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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