RAGTIME: Get into the rhythm and have a wonderful time!

Published: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 By: Gary Chattman Source: The Westchester News

E.L. Doctorow wrote this world-renowned novel “Ragtime” in 1975.  It was recognized by a National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction in 1975 and also as one of the best out-of-a-hundred English language novels in 1986.  In 1981, Milos Forman made a movie out of the book, starring Howard E. Rollins, Jr., Elizabeth McGovern and James Cagney.   The Broadway show, with music of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, and book by Terrence McNally, opened on Broadway in 1996, starring Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie and Audra McDonald.   The book and movie were successes, but the Broadway show was not.

That brings us to 2014 with unique revival directed by John Fanelli and choreographed by Greg Graham.   This Westchester Broadway Theatre show boasts a cast of forty, and it deserves FOUR CHATS!

Mr. Fanelli has taken this musical and formed one of the most professional shows that have graced the Elmsford venue.  The tireless work and meticulous direction has brought this “Ragtime” to a marvelous and very empathetic show.  The dancing, led by Mr. Graham, is as good as any you might find on the Great White Way. This postcard of early New York, from 1900-1917, with its weaving of fictional and non-fictional characters, is mesmerizing, not only because of the aforementioned choreography and direction, but by its set design by Steve Loftus and its costume design by Gail Baldoni.  The orchestra, led by a triumvirate of Dan Kazemi, Tim Splain and Johnny Baird, sounds like a professional, thirty-piece ensemble.

 The plot:   Three groups of people:  immigrants, led by Tateh and his daughter, who are trying to make a successful life in New York, even though they find that the streets are not paved with gold; the landed gentry, led by an aristocratic family led by Mother and Father, who see their lives upset by social change, and the Negroes, who have their special music called ragtime and who are beset by prejudice.   These three groups’ stories are melded in a circle of society.  Their stories are highlighted as they each live the American dream, and interact with one another.   It is similar to the “Tradition” of “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Circle of Life” of “The Lion King.”

We find Coalhouse Walker, the Negro pianist, trying to live an American life, but beset by the bigotry of the time.   White crackers destroy his special car (off the assembly line of Henry Ford, portrayed within the musical).  American life interferes with his romance and love