The opening of the 2016 season of the San Diego Musical Theatre, by founders Erin & Gary Lewis, began in a big way with an impressive production of a Broadway classic, “Ragtime”, featuring a huge cast and orchestra. Forty-one cast members and 21 members of the orchestra gave moving performances of the story of three different families in pursuit of the American dream during the turbulent years of the early 1900’s in New York City. The SDMT production of “Ragtime” is based on the original choreography and staging by Graciela Daniele and was under the direction of first time SDMT director Paul David Bryant and resident musical director of SDMT, Don Le Master. “Ragtime” was taken from a book by Terrence McNally with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty.
Photos by Ken Jacque Photography
Each of the three different family groups and their acquaintances were portrayed with cleverly designed costumes by costume coordinator Desiree Hatfield and hair and wig designs by Danielle Griffith, all matching the period and the personalities. This matched an impressive large set with balconies surrounding the stage providing a huge perspective for the musical. The set design was the work of stage manager Stanley D. Cohen and timely lighting effects by Michael Von Hoffman.
As impressive as the set and costumes were for this production, this was all overshadowed by the powerful performance of the leads Jay Donnell as Coalhouse Walker Jr., Nicole Parker as Sarah, Louis Pardo as Tateh, Cris O’Bryon as Father and Carolyn Agan as Mother. Each showed a beautiful range in their voices. Especially enjoyable were several duets sung by Mr. Donnell and Ms. Parker in such songs as “Wheels of a Dream” and “Sarah Brown Eyes”. Each showed powerful voices with great emotional expression. The large ensemble provided a complementary background to the principals. A vibrant and powerful voice was shown by Abby Gershuny as activist Emma Goldman. The audience enjoyed the comic break supplied by Michael Mittman as Harry Houdini and Andi Davis as Evelyn Nesbit. Louis Pardo played a compassionate Tateh searching for hope and a good life for his daughter and himself in America.
The story of “Ragtime” appears complicated as it unfolds, but as the people and situations fall into place you begin to see how each of the three family groupings will fit into each other’s life. Seemingly not related is the Harlem musician pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. and his friends; the upper class Protestant suburbanites referred to as Mother and Father from New Rochelle and the Eastern European Jewish immigrants from Latvia led by Tateh living on the lower east side. Introduce into this the occasional appearance of activists Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman, tycoons JP Morgan and Henry Ford, entertainers Harry Houdini and Evelyn Nesbitt and explorer Robert Peary you have the makings of what could be a massive, complicated story line. But as the lives of the main characters begin to intertwine you see that they all wrap around the “Search for the American Dream”, a prevalent story for many in the early 1900’s. A variety of social issues are dealt with as well, ranging from the racism of the time to the rise of socialism, the threat of war, the rising voices of the labor force and general living conditions. Not all ends well for everyone, but the feeling of hope remains at the end of the musical and a positive feeling that despite all of the problems surrounding this time period, there is still some hope for the future.
“Ragtime” was a 1998 Tony Award winning musical beating out “Lion King” for Best Book of a Musical Score, Best Original Score, Best Featured Leading Actress – Audra McDonald and Best Orchestration. The SDMT version is a show that should not be missed and the talent on the stage will delight and amaze you.
Ticket prices range from $40-$70 and can be purchased by calling 858-560-5740 or go to www.sdmt.org. Children, Senior and Students discounts are available. The musical takes place at the beautiful Spreckels Theatre at 121 Broadway and parking is available for $10 at the NBC Building and Spreckels Garage via Broadway Circle. There are numerous eating establishments a short walk from the theatre. “Ragtime” runs until Feb. 21st. Next up will be “42nd Street” beginning on May 27th.