Superbly staged, The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s production of Ragtime shows off grandly the sprawling excitement, burgeoning prosperity, cultural schisms, and racial injustices of early 20th century America in the Ragtime Era. With its energetic melodies Ragtime music had originated at pianos in African-American saloons and swelled in popularity and orchestration to give a surging, optimistic pulse to the nation. This sparkling music thrived for nearly two decades, declining only with the calamitous onslaught of World War I and the coming of Jazz.
…an event not to be missed.
Set against a backdrop of large mechanical gears that revolve and alternate in color, The LTA’s production features an immense cast that in the hands of director Michael Kharfen never clogs the stage, but shifts like a kalidoscope presenting alternating visions of spectacle. The 10-member orchestra plays brilliantly throughout but doesn’t intrude on the drama.
The story, most of it sung, begins with the introduction of a family of upperclass whites, beautifully dressed, Protestants all, noses held uniformly high as if a spear-bristling phalanx. Leading this stolid crowd is Mother and Father, played with well-heeled dignity by Shaun Moe and Jennifer Lyons Pagnard. Mother’s repressed heart will eventually bloom, in the arms of a not-so-aristocratic immigrant.
Before matters can get dull, a troop of stylishly dressed African Americans slinks on stage and dances sinuously, appalling the whites. The blacks will be headed by ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr., portrayed robustly by Malcolm Lee. Gifted and ambitious, Coalhouse wins success, money, the American Dream – and then meets tragedy.
In addition to the whites and blacks are the struggling immigrants. The foremost of these is Tateh, an Eastern European artist desperate for success, played winningly by Michael Gale. Clutching his hand is his waifish daughter, winsomely depicted by third-grader Lindsey Gattuso.
The narrative unfolds as Coalhouse seeks the love of Sarah, an African American washerwoman who, heartbroken, has tried to abandon their child. Sarah is played with great appeal by Aerika Saxe. He wins her over and also earns the friendship of Mother, despite Father’s objections. Soon made prosperous by his music, Coalhouse buys a Model T which in a feat of LTA stagecraft is assembled onstage by Henry Ford (Buzz Schmidt) and an army of workers.
But Coalhouse’s gilded ascent is doomed by white racists and his own raging passion.
Punctuating the story are appearances by celebrities of the era, including Booker T. Washington (Rodney Jackson), anarchist Emma Goldman (Janette Moman), the siren Evelyn Nesbit (Claire O’Brien), Harry Houdini (Jonathan Cagle-Mulberg), and J. P. Morgan (Larry Grey).
The many songs, ably directed by Francine Krasowska, include “The Crime of the Century,” “Till We Reach That Day,” and “Wheels of a Dream.”
With its splendid performances, excellent music and dances, delightful costumes, and panoramic view of early-20th-century America, The LTA’s production of Ragtime is an event not to be missed.
Running Time: Two and a quarter hours with a fifteen minute intermission.
Advisory: Some violence. Racy but no overt sexual content.
At The Little Theatre of Alexandria, January 25 through February 15, at 8:00 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturday nights with a 3:00 p.m. Sunday matinee. Tickets can be purchased online. Reservations can be made by calling 301-258-6394, although on their website a Soldout Poster can be seen.