Review: 'Ragtime' National Tour

Nancy Sasso Janis

My expectations of a touring company had honestly never been higher. I had seen a tour of ‘Ragtime The Musical’ at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven a very long time ago and then more recently a wonderful professional production at Westchester Broadway Theater. The latter is the production that my youngest teenaged son immediately fell in love with and vowed that he would audition for a community theatre production of it as soon as he could. He did just that the next year and despite the fact that he had never appeared on any stage, he snagged a role in the ensemble for the production at the Warner Theatre in Torrington. As a result, I attended every rehearsal with him as well as four of the performances, so to say that I am extremely familiar with the show is a bit of an understatement. Familiar and probably a little picky, to put it mildly.

And for the most part, the production by RT Productions, LLC/Phoenix Entertainment that stopped at Waterbury’s Palace Theater this weekend did not disappoint. The sweeping musical based on the novel ‘Ragtime’ by E.L. Doctorow came alive with a strong cast that did justice to the spectacular score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. The various scenes were visually stunning, with beautiful costumes designed by Gail Baldoni and projection design by Mike Tutaj. The scenic design by Kevin Depinet featured two metal staircases that spun into various formations, along with other movable pieces that worked well and everything was nicely lit by Mike Baldassari.

Chris Sams gave a moving and powerful performance as Coalhouse Walker Jr. His soaring tenor was a joy to hear, especially when he sang with Leslie Jackson as Sarah. Ms. Jackson’s operatic soprano was filled with emotion and served her well on her first National Tour. Kate Turner gave a heartfelt performance as Mother. Matthew Curiano brought considerable charm to the role of Tateh and Donald Coggin played the role of Mother’s Younger Brother. Troy Bruchwalski, who also trained in opera, played the role of Father. Bob Marcus had all the best lines one-liners as Grandfather, while Colin Myers, 12 years of age, did well as The Little Boy at the opening night performance. Cara Myers, 10, was lovely as The Little Girl. Jordan Santiago and Leilani Santiago share the two youngest roles on this tour. 

Mark Alpert, on his second National Tour, appeared in the role of Harry Houdini and Jeffrey Johnson II was a standout as Booker T. Washington. Jillian Van Niel was the frothy Evelyn Nesbit and Sandy Zwier was commanding as Emma Goldman. John Anker Bow was Henry Ford and Todd Berkich was the mogul JP Morgan. Joe Callahan was also strong in the role of the Irish firefighter Willie Conklin. Aneesa Folds, a recent graduate of the Hartt School of Music in Hartford, did some amazing singing as Sarah’s Friend. The eight members of the ensemble truly brought the scenes to a higher level of greatness. 

Marcia Milgrom Dodge directed and choreographed the production with a distinct vision, from the impressive opening number “Ragtime” to a heart wrenching “Till We Reach That Day,” to the epilogue. In between, there were some staging choices that didn’t quite make sense to me, while there were other bits of dancing and some clever use of props that added to the flow I heard one patron complaining in the lobby that the show is simply too long, but I would have been disappointed if anything had been cut for length. 

The Palace’s Frank Tavera called ‘Ragtime’ one of his favorite musicals and I certainly would agree. He also welcomed students from the after school program (that was funded by an educational grant) to their complementary performance. 'Progressing Toward Progress is a six-week, language arts and theatre appreciation program that utilizes the themes presented in the show to engage middle and high school students in a unique and interactive learning experiences. The students sat behind me and although they were a bit chatty at times, they clearly appreciated the power of the story. 

Tickets are available for both Saturday performances and the Palace is running a Snow Business Like Show Business promotion with 50% off select seats for both performances. There’s ‪#‎snow‬ business like show business, so despite this weekend’s wintry weather the show MUST go on! Take advantage of their #‎SnowBusinessSale‬ and SAVE 50% on all remaining side orchestra and mezzanine tickets to our two Saturday performances of ‪#‎RAGTIME‬! Select seats NOW only: $32.50/ $28.50/ $25.