The peak of the modern Broadway musical.
By Bradley Storer
Ragtime, the much beloved modern classic of the American musical stage, finally makes its Australian professional premiere with the Production Company – judging from the rapturous audience response on opening night it has been well worth the wait. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s acclaimed novel, with a score by powerhouse composing duo Ahrens and Flaherty, and a book by legendary playwright Terrence McNally, Ragtime represents the peak of the modern Broadway musical.
Set at the turn of the 20th century, the show depicts the trials and interactions of three families representing the cross sections of racial and socio-economic backgrounds in America at the time. An upper-middle class white family of New Rochelle, a pair of lovers from the marginalized black community of Harlem, and a father and daughter emerging from the impoverished immigrants of Eastern Europe. Director Roger Hodgman conducts these intersections of class and race across tiers of scaffolding, choregrapher Dana Jolly delineating all three groups clearly through movement (as well as several flashy vaudeville numbers).
The African-American lovers form the centre of Ragtime’s dramatic momentum and spirit, with Kurt Kansley cutting a commanding figure as pianist Coalhouse Walker Jnr., his fine baritone by turns beautiful and fearsome as Coalhouse’s struggle for justice descends into darkness. Chloe Zuel as his lover Sarah makes a huge impression with a powerful performance of the chilling ‘Your Daddy’s Son’.
Alexander Lewis as immigrant on the rise Tateh recalls a young Mandy Patinkin, bringing intensity and a thrilling tenor to the role as well as rogueish charm, combining all three in the pyrotechnic patter song ‘Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.’. As the acerbic Grandfather, John McTernan steals the show with barely a handful of lines. As the Mother of the white New Rochelle family, Georgina Hopson delivers the standout performance of the production. She delivers the show’s defiant anthem to the onward march of civilization, ‘Back to Before’, so winningly that the audience is held completely spell bound before exploding into applause.
Ragtime’s optimistic ending, which envisions a potential America whose socio-political boundaries have dissolved and united the people as family, seems slightly naïve in the face of the country’s (and indeed, the world in general) continued racial and class inequalities well into the 21st century. While we can only hope and work towards a future like the one prophesized here, musical theatre fans can rejoice in the vision of this beautiful production.
Venue: State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne
Dates: 2 – 10th November
Times: 7:30pm Wednesday – Saturday, 1pm Matinee Wednesday and Thursday, 2pm Matinee Saturday, 3pm Sunday
Prices: $25 – $150
Bookings: artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, Arts Centre Box Office.
Photography courtesy of Cavanagh PR