“Broadway in your backyard,” is a popular line. One of the biggest marketing strategies with local theatres nationwide is to imply that their amateur productions rival those on Broadway. While I fully support community theatre, I can also frankly say that this advertising ploy is inaccurate about 90% of the time, however, Curtain Call’s current production of Ragtime is in that rare 10%, presenting a show that one would pay hundreds of dollars to see on the Great White Way.
Frankly, I could end the review here, for there is not really anything to critique, other than saying it was an incredible night of theatre all around. The talent was exceptional, the orchestra was fabulous, the direction was amazing, the set was fantastic, the lights were wonderful. Maybe I could suggest some room for improvement in the sound category, but that’s a struggle that Curtain Call has been trying to remedy on its Kweskin stage for a while, so that’s not news.
I saw the show on the second Saturday of its run, and the actors had really hit their stride. Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, the musical had its Broadway premiere in 1998, with a book by Terrance McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahren. This show is set at the turn of the 20th century, when racial tensions in the United States are high, and it spotlights three specific groups of people – White suburban upper-class, African Americans of the Cotton Club era, and the Eastern European and Irish tenement immigrants. The themes portrayed then still exist now, making it a very powerful and important piece to view.
“Mother” is the representative matriarch of the Upper middle class and she is played by the ethereal Sarah Giggar. Ms. Giggar has been a mainstay at Curtain Call this past year, and understandably so, embodying Mother with a dynamic mixture of compassion and breeding to create a fully-rounded character. The fact that her powerful voice hugged each song with its intention and that she is such a pleasure to watch was just icing on the cake.
Of the same ilk, Larry Gabbard plays “Father”, Mother’s husband - an adventurous, wealthy man who brings home the bacon and does what he wants. He, too, has been seen recently at Curtain Call and other area theatres, most likely because his vocal range is impressive and he can conform himself into any role presented.
Kevin Thompson plays “Coalhouse Walker, Jr.”, our beloved hero of the show, fighting the wrath of discrimination and trying to be the best he can be in a world that wants to put him down. Mr. Thompson’s performance was 100% committed and he created a character that made me rejoice, as well as pull on my heartstrings.
I could go on for days about this amazing cast. Instead, here are a few snippets: As “Sarah”, we have Minuette Griffin, whose soaring voice and emotional performance moved me. Zully Ramos, as part of the ensemble, was given an incredible featured solo and she blew the roof off! Meaghan Elliott, a CC Stamford Youth Theatre alum who I’ve been watching for 9 years, is now a full-fledged, strong woman, creating a playful, comedic “Evelyn Nesbit” with an undeniable stage presence and talent far beyond her years. Speaking of strength, Lauren Gulliver-Travers as “Emma Goldman” returns to the stage with her powerful belt and her dedicated character work, while her husband, Dan Travers as “Willie Conklin” impressed me with his spot-on Irish accent and real acting chops in his role.
The standout, though, was Brian Bianco, as “Tateh”. This is not the first time Mr. Bianco has stolen a show at Curtain Call. You may remember him from multiple productions at the Sterling Farms Complex, where he is also the Education Director for Curtain Call and a frequent director of shows. His Tateh is impassioned, fierce, and sometimes, tragically sad. There are so many levels in this production, and Mr. Bianco, as well as his castmates, hits them all.
The performers of this show, all of whom were phenomenal, are only a small part of the production as a whole. Peter Barbieri, Jr.’s set, while always impressive, was simply magnificent, and provided a stellar canvas for Adam Lobelson to create his lighting design. The music director, Tony Bellomy, certainly had his work cut out for him, both with a challenging score and a large cast, but he clearly hit every mark in the rehearsal process, and carried it through to conducting the awesome pit orchestra. As usual, Megan Latte Ormond’s costumes were interesting, colorful, and period-appropriate, transporting the audience back 105 years, and Jennifer Jonas’s choreography was fun and seamless within the body of work. Last, but definitely not least, there is the amazing George S. Croom at the helm. As a director, Mr. Croom always has a distinct vision and perspective that he embeds in the production, and that was crystal-clear with this show. The audience felt the struggle from all sides, sympathized with all sides, laughed and cried with all sides. He knows how to put together a theatrical experience and he knocked it out of the park, once again!
Curtain Call is a volunteer-based organization, and there is a long list of volunteers outside of the spotlight, working backstage, and to them, I say kudos! Kudos to your work and your dedication and the successful creation of a beautiful production, especially to Jan Ursone, the tireless Stage Manager, and her assistants, Martha Dombroski, Jordon Michael Hensley and Sara DeFelice.
Ragtime runs until October 22nd. Don’t miss it! You can find out more information or book your tickets at www.curtaincallinc.com or call the box office at 203-461-6458.
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