Review: 'Ragtime' National Tour

Liz Vestal

I first heard the music to Ragtime during the 1998 Tony Award telecast. That 4 min clip intrigued me enough to purchase the CD and for the next 18 years I would listen to it over and over again. The revival wasn’t on Broadway long enough for me to see it in 2009, so you can imagine how quickly I jumped on the chance to see the touring production when it came to Worcester January 29-31. 

I had read the book but it was years ago and to be honest I’d largely forgotten the plot except for what you piece together via the soundtrack. The curtain rose for the Prologue and we were off- Warn the Duke!

It’s a beautiful production, scaled down for touring I would imagine but still impactful. I wasn’t prepared for the thoughts that ran through my head as the show evolved. I found the 3 seemingly disparate story-lines of the “traditional” American family, the African-American and immigrant families incredibly resonant in 2016.  We like to believe that we have come so far since the early 1900’s in terms of tolerance and acceptance. I think our reality is far closer to the opening scene when all 3 groups view each other warily and stay with their respective sides. 

Women are still viewed as helpless perhaps not to the extent of the way Father views Mother. I would have loved to see more of her independence come out to Father instead of one passing mention of how busy the factory has been and how she needs a salary.  Both in 2016 and 1906ish her salary would not have been the same as her male counterparts no matter how hard she worked. 

I particularly found Coalhouse’s last moments mesmerizing. Walking out peacefully with his hands up only to be shot invoked thoughts of last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Yes. Coalhouse had embarked on a reign of terror, killing and wounding many. The idea of him being awarded a fair trial as he asked for in 1910ish is absurd; it would never have happened and he must have realized that. Unfortunately, in 2016 it’s possible to imagine that Coalhouse would have difficulty receiving a fair trial even now. 

Finally having seen the show, now fully understanding the context behind the songs, “Wheels of a Dream” is especially poignant to me. I’m not sure if we’re there yet, when anyone can truly travel as far as their heart can take them. I hope within my lifetime we’ll reach that day.