Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Ragtime
Ford's Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing


Kevin McAllister and Nova Y. Payton
Photo by Carol Rosegg
At a time when the American people are facing questions about immigration and what constitutes national identity, Ragtime has made a welcome return to Washington in a compact yet epic production at Ford's Theatre.

Director Peter Flynn has scaled back a work that could involve an overpowering number of performers and an overwhelming set, much as Eric Schaeffer did recently with Titanic at Signature Theatre, but following a different plan. Where Signature's space is malleable and allows for configurations that place actors almost face-to-face with audience members, Ragtime takes place on a traditional proscenium. Its three-story set designed by Milagros Ponce de León, assisted by Rui Rita's lighting design, can conjure up the fire escapes of the Lower East Side, the townhouses of Harlem, and the spacious homes of early 20th-century New Rochelle.

The 1998 musical by Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), and Terrence McNally (book), based on E.L. Doctorow's multifaceted novel, looks back at the triumphs and injustices of America in the early 1900s—many of which resonate today, as Flynn's staging makes clear. The privileged, well-off residents of New Rochelle begin the musical in a world where "There were no Negroes and there were no immigrants," but before long their complacency will be shaken by a Harlem pianist who doesn't "know his place" (Kevin McAllister) and a struggling Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe (Jonathan Atkinson).

First things first. McAllister gives a magnetic performance in the central role of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a proud man who believes in the promise of his country until prejudice, bureaucracy, and unreasoning violence grind him down. Nova Y. Payton is riveting as Coalhouse's lover Sarah, who has seen the worst but dares to hope for more, and her rendition of "Your Daddy's Son" brings chills.

Other standouts are Rayanne Gonzales as the anarchist Emma Goldman; Tracy Lynn Olivera as Mother, a New Rochelle wife and mother discovering her own identity; Atkinson as Tateh, a poor artist determined to protect his young daughter; and Gregory Maheu as Olivera's aimless Younger Brother, who finds a surprising ideological connection with Coalhouse. In keeping with the theme of America as a nation of immigrants, some of the ensemble members joining Atkinson at Ellis Island are dressed in African or Arab fashion (the sumptuous costumes are by Wade Laboissonniere).

Choreographer Michael Bobbitt keeps the company in almost constant motion, with moments of both conflict and pure fun, and the nine costumed musicians, including music director Christopher Youstra, preside from the second level of the set.

Ford's Theatre
Ragtime
March 10th - May 20th, 2017
Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Tateh: Jonathan Atkinson
Grandfather, J.P. Morgan: Christopher Bloch
Sarah's Friend: Felicia Curry
Emma Goldman: Rayanne Gonzales
Father: James Konicek
Younger Brother: Gregory Maheu
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: Kevin McAllister
Evelyn Nesbit: Justine "Icy" Moral
Harry Houdini: Christopher Mueller
Mother: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Sarah: Nova Y. Payton
Booker T. Washington: Jefferson A. Russell
Harry K. Thaw, Admiral Peary: Stephen F. Schmidt
Henry Ford: John Leslie Wolfe
Stanford White, Willie Conklin: Elan Zafir
Ensemble: Maria Egler, Eben K. Logan, Sean-Maurice Lynch, Ines Nassara, Rayshun LaMarr Purefoy, Karen Vincent, Tobias Young
Little Boy: Henry Baratz or Holden Browne
Little Girl: Dulcie Pham or Kylee Geraci
Coalhouse Walker III: Mya King-Namdar or Rubin B. Singleton IV
Swings: Ashleigh King, Ryan Burke
Directed by Peter Flynn
Choreographer: Michael Bobbitt
Music Director: Christopher Youstra
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fords.org


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