"Ragtime", The Splendid Revival of the Celebrated Broadway Musical

Published: Friday, April 11, 2014 11:00 am By: Tom Holehan Source: The Millford-Orange Bulletin

The opening number of "Ragtime", the splendid revival of the celebrated Broadway musical currently on stage at the Westchester Broadway Theatre, New York, is being given full vocal power by an ensemble of actors in thrillingly good voice. With that very first number is the promise of a solid production. And in most respects it is.

Based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow best seller, “Ragtime”, juggles several stories about life in and around New Rochelle and New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. Created by Terrence McNally (book). Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music), “Ragtime” follows three groups: a family of upper class WASPs led by a mother (a wonderful Victoria Lauzun), Father (Craig Waletzko) and Mother’s rebellious Younger Brother (Todd Ritch, excellent). Also represented are African Americans Coalhouse Walker (Farye) and his intended, Sarah (Brittany Johnson), along with Jewish immigrants Tzteh (Joey Sanzaro and his young daughter. These fictional characters share the stage with real-life personalities of the periods including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbitt, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Stanford White among many others.

 Mr. McNally obviously had the toughest job streamlining Doctorow’s epic novel into fluid storytelling. He doesn’t always secceed and “Ragtime” does seem to stall here and there with its numerous characters and various subplots. But the stories remain compelling and the music is continually melodic with a score that fetures several genuine showstoppers. At Westchester, under the steady direction of John Fanelli, the musical works best in the group numbers with actors whose voices blend beautifully time and time again. In addition to that stirring opener, the gospel-inspired “Till We Reach That Day,” “Crime of the Century” and “New Music” are all gorgeously rendered here.

In the predominantly non-Equity cast some individual actors shine more than others. Lauzun’s warmly maternal performance gives way to a powerful second act ballad, “Back to Before” which she delivers effortlessly and Todd Ritch’s Younger Brother is an electric, vivid presence in a role I’ve seen mangled more than once. The central love story between Coalhouse and Sarah is immensely moving and convincing but both actors tend to strain for notes at times and clarity of diction is not always in evidence. Mr. Sanzaro’s immigrant peddler is reminiscent of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” and while his singing is fine, his acting is often overwrought. Nadine Zahr’s commanding Emma Goldman and Cali Laspina’s saucy Evelyn Nesbitt, however, are very fine company.

Simple yet effective settings by Steave Loftus and finely appointed costuming by Gail Baldoni add to the overall success of this mostly rewarding family musical which I rarely regret seeing again. Good Job.
“Ragtime” continues at the Westchester Boradway Theater in Elmsford; NY through May 4th. For ticket reservations call 914-592-2222 or visit BroadwayTheatre.com