The dance of shifting perspectives is what allows the five-time Tony Award-winning Ragtime to keep from becoming stale. At any given moment, the narrative changes hands from white suburbanites in good socioeconomic standing, African American workers, and Eastern European immigrants. All three groups struggle with the progression of early 20th century culture, somehow finding commonality and understanding through such difficulties. The lines between these communities intertwine and then blur.
To deliver elements of familiarity into the work, many historical figures enter the fray as members of these archetypes—Booker T. Washington (Dedrick Bonner), Emma Goldman (Hannah Rose Kidwell), Harry Houdini (Lance Galgon), J.P. Morgan (Bryan Dobson) and Evelyn Nesbit (Monica Ricketts) participate in the proceedings at one point or another to liven the proceedings—audiences would certainly be remiss to not chuckle at Ricketts’ charming chanteuse act as “the girl on the swing” during “The Crime of the Century.”
The real scene stealers, however, are the new faces on the stage (in terms of characterization, certainly not in acting!). Terron Brooks’ finesse is utterly captivating as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Gary Patent’s Tateh emotes with such depth, you’d think the fate of the world was at stake. And powerhouse vocalists Brittany Anderson (Sarah) and Jessica Bernard (Mother) shine brightest in “Your Daddy’s Son” and “Goodbye, My Love/Journey On,” respectively. Everyone around me had chills as Anderson flexed her range, especially. It is no doubt that the musical direction of Brian Kennedy honed the skills of all the talent well.
Ragtime is a melting pot of emotions and teachable moments—it’s one part history lesson, another part a tale of tolerance and progression, one part romance, one part devastation, and the mixture is far beyond any of that. Championing the source material by E.L. Doctorow and adding his own signature touches on the Broadway classic is director Paul David Bryant, a member of Ragtime’s original national tour in 1998.
Ultimately, if the story of developing cultures fails to grip you, the vocal talents of this most impressive cast will.
Musical Theatre West’s Ragtime runs until February 23 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E Atherton Street in Long Beach, 90815. Tickets are on sale starting at $20. Online ticketing is available at musical.org. Tickets are sold via Musical Theatre West, and they can be reached at 562-856-1999.