The Berkeley Playhouse has brought one of the most acclaimed American musicals of the last twenty years to their stage, Ragtime, based on the celebrated novel by E. L. Doctorow. The story includes a multitude of perspectives all looking for the same thing, the American dream. America is changing at the turn of the 20th century and many are fearful of their privilege being diminished. Unwelcoming to Immigrants and/or trying to take advantage of them and continued racism and violence towards African-Americans. You’d think the story was based on today.
We’re presented with three evolving stories on the East Coast that interconnect in time, although it ends in song and dance one story still ends somberly. We meet an affluent white family led by “Mother” (Mindy Lym) from suburban New Rochelle, New York; an African American musician, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Dave J. Abrams) part of the Renaissance in Harlem; and Jewish immigrants, Tateh (Mischa Stephens) and his daughter (Molly Graham) who initially start out in the tenements of Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Mother (her character has no name) in New Rochelle begins to understand a little bit of her privilege after finding an abandoned baby. She finds the mom, Sarah (Marissa Rudd), who’s about to be imprisoned and promises to take responsibility for her and her child. Sarah ends up being the love of Coalhouse Walker Jr. and he desperately tries to convince her to come back to him each week. We never find out what happened between them prior. Tateh finds a new way to tell stories and ends up becoming successful. He eventually ends up meeting Mother after her family ends up in Atlantic City, New Jersey due to racist tensions at her New Rochelle home. They end up being the only two who move towards the American dream of infinite possibilities.
Interwoven into the story is the innocence of the children. We see the young boy (Elijah Cooper) observing the adults but not understanding their issues, he’s still open and honest with his observations. It’s interesting to think about where adults lose that innocence. Adults often admire it in young people as if they had not been that young once. When and where is that acceptance lost?
The Berkeley Playhouse does a great job bringing this to the small stage. We continue to be impressed by their casting, lighting, sound and show choices. They are inclusive, timely, and well executed.
Ragtime boasts Tony Award-winning music and lyrics by the Broadway powerhouse duo, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens(Once on This Island, Anastasia, Seussical), book by four-time Tony Award-winner Terrence McNally (The Full Monty, Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class).
February 16 – March 18
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Director William Hodgson
Music Director Daniel Feyer
Choreographer Alex Rodriguez