Timothy Sheader's production of the 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime opened at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (where Sheader is artistic director), on 18 May. It runs in repertoire until 8 September.
The musical, an adaptation of E L Doctorow's 1975 novel, is by Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and tells the story of three very different families at the turn of the 20th century.
"The opening of the 1998 Broadway musical
promises so much and delivers so little. America assembles at the
turn of the last century in a syncopated company cakewalk, a ragtime
stomp that suggests an avalanche of joyous and uplifting theatrical
elaboration. In fact, that’s it folks. Scott Joplin has now
left the building. It’s as if Oklahoma!
had started with its title number and left you on your own to work
out how the characters arrived at the creation of their new state in
a series of feeble flashbacks...Terrence McNally’s filleting of E
L Doctorow’s 1975 kaleidoscopic novel is more efficient than
inspirational, draining the thing of its juice and fire in the neatly
arranged narrative segments of the generic white middle-class family,
the black underclass and the swarm of immigrants. Elements of these
various stories catch the light, and are mobilised in some fine
choreography by Javier de Frutos, before getting lost in a series
of completely unmemorable anthems and chorales by Stephen Flaherty
(music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)...Ragtime
does not fulfil its promise of Shakespearean complexity, and soon
becomes a penance to sit through."
"I find it hard to
get excited about this year’s musical, Ragtime,
however, first staged on Broadway in 1998. The high production
standards and fresh thinking that are the hallmark of Sheader’s
tune-and-toe shows are still evident, but even he can’t entirely
animate this ponderous piece that is so determined to stake its claim
to being one of the all-time great American musicals...Unfortunately
there isn’t nearly as much ragtime as one would like, with the
composer Stephen Flaherty usually opting for sentimental power
ballads in the Les Miz tradition. There is also a
punishing lack of humour in the script and some modish gender- and
colour-blind casting which seems perverse in a show in which race and
sex are important issues. There are strong performances from
Rolan Bell as Coalhouse Walker, the ragtime musician who turns
terrorist in his fight against racial prejudice; Rosalie Craig as
the loving white mother who adopts an abandoned black baby; and John
Marquez as the East European immigrant with an ailing daughter who
finally hits the big time as a movie magnate. But while there is no
doubting the vigour and skill of the staging, the show itself often
feels like a po-faced, self-important bore."
"Perhaps more than any other work,
that of Stephen Sondheim not excepted, Ragtime
is an index of the ambition of the contemporary American musical.
Composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens and scriptwriter
Terrence McNally adapted E.L. Doctorow’s sprawling 1975 novel
about class, race and family in early 20th-century America more
expansively and with more explicit attention to its themes than Milos
Forman’s film version, yet also more engagingly and – a rare
achievement – more concisely...The main action weaves among three
families, one WASP, one black, one Latvian-Jewish immigrant. The
opportunities offered by the US and its sometimes ruthless racism
sound equally strongly, and with as much relevance to today. As
bigoted small-town firemen made monkey noises at ragtime pianist
Coalhouse Walker Jr, I was reminded of a news story that had broken
barely hours earlier reporting that such hideous mockery is still
common among football crowds in Euro 2012 co-host Ukraine...this
is a production that overall matches its material in scope and
audacity, and pretty much in success as well."
is based on E L Doctorow’s 1975 novel of that name, a
kaleidoscopic vision of America’s capitalist boom in the early
years of the 20th century. But anyone expecting a feast of Scott
Joplin will be disappointed. The idiom here is on the whole grand and
brassy, albeit with elements of dissonance to evoke the period’s
capacity for assimilating new people and their particular
voices...Two things are missing from the resulting confection: humour
and any trace of real eroticism. And an air of self-importance hangs
over the treatment of political radicalism, which could do with more
subtle handling — a fault of the material, not the interpretation.
Timothy Sheader’s revival has an ambition to match that of
Stephen Flaherty’s music. Visually it’s imposing, with a
rubble-strewn set by Jon Bausor that suggests the connections
between the present and the 1900s (both transitional phases) while
conveying a bleak view of contemporary America. Musically
there are also moments of epic sweep, with several stirring numbers.
There’s confident work from Harry Hepple and Claudia Kariuki,
and Rolan Bell brings a charismatic clarity to Coalhouse.
Especially impressive, as Mother, is the radiant Rosalie Craig, who
is surely a star in the making."
"It’s a musical, but don’t expect
the rackety fun of last year’s Crazy for You. Jon
Bausor’s high-concept design for director Timothy Sheader is
striking, brilliant, and a terrible mistake. It works against the
piece, overwhelming story and sense with a simplistic metaphor of
capitalist decline. Not what the Doctorow ordered. Nor does Terrence
McNally’s musical version demand all this laboriously updated
irony. It is a panorama of America’s 1900s, mixing fiction with
real characters from Houdini to Henry Ford...It would take the
Sondheim of Sweeney Todd to make a great
musical out of Doctorow’s dry, dark, period-precise complexity.
McNally tried but the last thing his lesser work needs is to drag in
Obama, Starbucks signs and the implication that modern America is a
mess. The disappointment is greater because Sheader is a fabulously
adventurous leader of his (now refurbished) sylvan theatre, not
afraid of the dark side...Rolan Bell is powerful as Coalhouse, and
Rosalie Craig as the white woman who saves his baby conveys a
poignant sense of womanhood moving tentatively into a new age of
decision and dilemmas. John Marquez is an impressive Tateh, the
Jewish artist seizing the American dream, and the singing and
set-piece choreography is good (Stephen Flaherty’s music is fun
in ragtime and vaudeville pastiches, otherwise unmemorable)."
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