WBT's RAGTIME - For A Good Time!

Published: Thursday, March 20, 2014 12:00 pm By: Jim DeBlasi Source: THE CUE

Who says you need a time machine to visit New Rochelle in the early 1900’s?  Not when you can see “Ragtime” the Musical at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, presented by Standing Ovation Studios.  Directed by John Fanelli and choreographed by Greg Graham, “Ragtime” takes you back in time and paints a poignant picture of a young nation as it suffers the growing pains of change. 

When the musical "Ragtime" arrived on Broadway in 1998 it was praised as much for its epic size as its astounding storytelling about the American Dream at the dawn of the 20th century.  The show was nominated for 12 Tony Awards in 1998, and won for Best Actress, Original Score, Book, and Orchestration.  With its 50-person cast and sumptuous sets and costumes, "Ragtime" featured planes, trains, a full-size Model T and on-stage fireworks to represent the invention and ostentation of the time.

Based on the acclaimed 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, Terrence McNally's "Ragtime" tells the multi-strand story of three groups of Americans in and around New York City in 1906. The blindly content are suddenly faced with the unfortunate, the dreamers are faced with harsh reality, the innocent meet with cruel prejudice, and all the while, everyone struggles to reach their American dream as they fight against the currents of racism and violence.  Collectively, they signify the sweeping changes occurring at the turn of the century. 
The suburbanites are represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white, upper-class Victorian family in New Rochelle, who welcome a runaway and her baby into their home. The African Americans are represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem jazz pianist who turns an injustice into a revolution. The immigrants are represented by Tateh, a Jew from Latvia who sells his silhouette portraits on the streets to survive the squalor of the Lower East Side.

Their personal journeys, which intertwine in the course of the play, come alive as historic figures - including escape artist Harry Houdini, auto tycoon Henry Ford, educator Booker T. Washington, and infamous entertainer Evelyn Nesbit - offer diversion and perspective. All this is seen through the awe-struck eyes of Edgar, Mother's young son.

The Westchester Broadway Theatre pulls out all the stops with a cast of 40, a large orchestra, talented actors and singers, dazzling costumes and choreography and they even produce a full size Model-T.
The beautiful songs of Stephen Flaherty range from the toe-tapping strains of ragtime music to the moving, lyrical lines of a ballad. The rousing opening number alone will remain stuck in your head long after the show has ended, and the strong cast does justice to Flaherty's moving melodies. Victoria Lauzun gives a touching, sympathetic portrayal of Mother, a sheltered homemaker whose eyes are suddenly opened to the world around her. Her voice is lovely to hear, and she has a quiet dignity that never leaves her, no matter how drastically her life changes. Fa Tye is a fiery, passionate Coalhouse and sings some of my favorite songs, “The Wheels of a Dream” and the 11 o'clock number, "Make Them Hear You." Joey Sanzaro as Tateh portrays a Jewish immigrant struggling to give his daughter a better life is touching and heartfelt.

Though their appearances are brief, Cali LaSpina’s flighty Evelyn Nesbit, Antoine L. Smith's solemn Booker T. Washington, and Nadine Zahr's acidic Emma Goldman make the most of their stage time in their portrayal of these iconic figures. The ensemble in general is very solid, and with Musical Director, Dan Kazemi, the full orchestra added power and emotion to the lyrics.
As we witness Coalhouse's rise and fall, and the way the world works on all the characters, their times influencing their actions, we come to see in them our reflection. We, too, live in a time of great changes, some of which inspire hope and some fear, and too many of us still move in separate groups of whites, blacks, and immigrants, warily circling one another. In a day when this has figured into the debate over our direction as a nation, when we have the opportunity to vote on it, Westchester Broadway Theatre's staging of Ragtime is remarkably timely. It reveals to us how we live in history and how we bear responsibility for making it.

“Ragtime” runs through May 4th at the Westchester Broadway Theatre.  Running time is about two and a half hours, including one intermission. A special ticket price of $67 plus tax is offered which includes a 3 course dinner.  Tickets are available by calling (914) 592-2222 or online at www.RagtimeWestchester.com.