I am still reeling from the production of “Ragtime” I saw
recently at The Milwaukee Rep. I’m sure my review will never
capture the experience. I could look into my dictionary of
synonyms for ideas - stunning, exceptional, powerful, intense,
incredible, amazing, inimitable.
None of them need apply. They all fall short.
musicals I’ve seen - and I’ve seen many of them - are
entertaining to be sure. But many of them also seem somewhat
fake and forced. Characters are talking to each other, and all
at once one or several of them starts singing, and a full
orchestra suddenly shows up to accompany them. It’s magic
and often quite satisfying.
We suspend our disbelief and enjoy the genre.
does not exactly fit that pattern. Here, the music and the
narrative, even the astounding choreography, all flow together
characters, especially Mother, Younger Brother, Tateh and
Coalhouse, seem like genuine people struggling to find their
way. History comes alive, and we see connections between the
past and the present, we reflect upon the miracle and the
travesty of America, we feel hope and despair, joy and
moved. Not just by the dazzling choreography, the soaring
music, the jazzy ragtime rhythms, the versatile set design. We
are moved to tears by the beauty and the horror, the
ramifications of change, and the effort it takes to try to
make sense of it all.
mention must be made of the sterling performances of Carmen
Cusack (Mother) and Gavin Gregory (Coalhouse). Their
contributions cannot be measured or adequately described. Josh
Landay (Tateh) and Michael Doherty (Younger Brother) are also
very convincing in their roles.
begin to credit all the people who are responsible for this
extravaganza, this rich feast for the eyes and ears, the
emotions and the mind. I must praise director Mark Clements,
who orchestrated it all. Also E. L. Doctorov, whose novel
inspired the musical, composed by Terrence McNally (book),
Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics).
choreographer Stephen Mear, musical director Dan Kazemi, set
designer Todd Edward Ivins and costume designer Alexander B.
Tecoma should be applauded. This list only touches the cadre
of artists responsible for this polished, exuberant
want to be reminded of the beginning of the 20th century -
immigration, industrialization, assimilation of various ethnic
groups, and changes in fashion, music, modes of travel and
entertainment - and some of the seismic changes that evolved,
get your tickets now. A show of this magnitude and excellence
is rare, and I say this in a mecca of good theater offerings.
runs through Oct. 27 in the Quadracci Powerhouse Theatre, 108
E. Wells St., Milwaukee. For tickets and show times, call
414-224-9490 or visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com.