Ragtime Premieres at West End's Piccadilly, 19 MarDate: 29 January 2003
UPDATED: More casting and creative details have been added to this story on 31 January 2003.
Award-winning Broadway musical Ragtime will at last receive its West End premiere (See The Goss, 10 Jan 2003). It opens at the West End's Piccadilly Theatre on 19 March 2003 (previews from 8 March), in a new production led by Dave Willetts, Maria Friedman and Graham Bickley, who starred in the European premiere of the show last November at Cardiff's International Festival of Musical Theatre.
Based on EL Doctorow's epic 1975 novel, Ragtime traces the cultural and political sea-changes in America between the turn of the 20th century and the start of the First World War. In a portrait of three very different American families, fictional lives become dramatically intertwined with one another as well as with factual characters and events including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and the sinking of the Lusitania.
In 1981, Milos Forman brought the story to the big screen, with a cast that included James Cagney, Norman Mailer and Elizabeth McGovern. The musical adaptation - with a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens - premiered in January 1998 on Broadway where it won four Tony Awards and ran for two years. In the stage show, Doctorow's story is played out against a range of American musical styles - from the catchy, rag-inspired opening through cakewalk, waltz and march.
Ragtime was originally scheduled to open in the West End back in March 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre (now home to Abba mega-hit Mamma Mia!), but those transfer plans fell through (See News, 3 Jul 1998). Somewhat belatedly, the show had its European premiere on 26 October 2002 in the concert version at Cardiff's St David's Hall as part of the inaugural International Festival of Musical Theatre.
While only semi-staged, that Cardiff presentation attracted the big names of Willetts, Friedman and Bickley to, boasted a full on-stage orchestra and received numerous standing ovations at the sell-out performance in the nearly 2,000-seat venue. For the West End, the show has been freshly conceived and designed - with a 20-strong orchestra and a cast of 30 - though it is once again directed by Canadian Stafford Arima, who has worked on previous productions of Ragtime.
West End diva Maria Friedman's credits include Chicago, Sunday in the Park with George, The Witches of Eastwick and Passion, for which she won an Olivier for Best Actress in a Musical. She won a second, earlier Olivier, in 1995, for Best Entertainment for her one-woman show Maria Friedman - By Special Arrangement. In Ragtime, she plays the role of Mother.
Willetts, who plays Father, has starred in numerous West End musicals including Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Cats and Jesus Christ Superstar and has most recently been seen in Let Us Fly at the King's Head and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers on tour. Bickley, who is Tateh, has been seen in the West End in The Pajama Game, Miss Saigon, They're Playing Our Song, The Pirates of Penzance, Bread, Sunset Boulevard, I Love You You're Perfect Now Change and Les Miserables. The West End veterans are joined by Broadway's Kevyn Morrow (Dreamgirls, A Chorus Line, Smokey Joe's Café).
The West End premiere production of Ragtime is designed by Robert Jones, with lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by Peter Hylenski and musical orchestrations by William David Brohn. Currently playing at the Piccadilly Theatre is Romeo and Juliet - The Musical, which will close on 8 February 2003 (See News, 15 Jan 2003).
Note: Public booking for Ragtime has now opened, initially for a 12-week season.
- by Terri Paddock