So prior to last night, the only thing I knew about Ragtime was Audra McDonald and the parody from Forbidden Broadway. I had heard the soundtrack once, and while I thought the music was good, none of it was so overpowering that I felt the need to memorize it.
All that changed last night. I attended one of the last few performances of the Broadway Revival of Ragtime. It was unbelievable, and I only wish that it had received the kind of attention it deserves. When the curtain rose, the entire cast, which appears in the opening, was greeted with thunderous applause which lasted a good 4-5 minutes, they stood there and soaked in the love the audience was feeding them, and I knew at once this was going to be a great show. The audience was with these actors/characters every step of the way, and I started tearing up from the 2nd song in the show.
My tears during the performance can mainly be attributed to one actress. Christiane Noll, who plays Mother, is far and away the best performer in the show. However, she has very stiff competition, as every single actor in the show is incredible. What sets Mrs. Noll apart is the fact that she truly inhabits her character and manages to sing every note in the score with what appears to be no effort at all. It was absolutely spell binding, and I fear I might have missed out on other small moments in the show, because I could not take my eyes off of her.I cannot really say more about how incredible she was, but I know I shall be following her very closely from now on, and hope to see her in another venue soon.
The rest of the cast was completely top notch. Quentin Earl Darrington’s portrayal of Coalhouse is amazing. He manages to play a piano frame in a way you’d swear music was really coming out of it, and his amazing voice is beautifully paired by his exquisite skill as an actor. Stephanie Umoh, who was faced with the great challenge of performing the role originated by Audra McDonald, gave Sarah a new life. I think the criticism that Umoh is not Audra McDonald is fair, but I didn’t expect her to be. Umoh’s performance is captivating, and when she descends the stairs and rushes into Coalhouse’s arms, she truly stole the audience’s heart. Her vocal technique was amazing to watch, but it seemed that the score required her to work very hard to give the audience the nearly pitch perfect performance she gave. Audra’s performance might have been more effortless, but Umoh’s tenacity gave Sarah an edge which truly worked for her character.
I could go on about how each performer was great, but I won’t.
The director/choreographer, Marcia Milgrom Dodge, deserves some serious credit. Her ability to move the large cast in such a fluid and appealing manner was absolutely breathtaking. The end of the opening number finished with all three race/classes doing 3 distinctly different dances to the same song, and it worked beautifully. In addition, her use of backlighting to create the shadow effect, for the Silhoutte’s was perfect. The dancing in the show never felt out of place, and never felt strange. Every movement of every actor, be it dance or general blocking, felt intuitive and natural.
The creative team behind the musical deserves a big round of applause. The original set for Ragtime was mocked for being insanely large, but the set for the revival was minimal. It was a cool complicated three tiered platform which was connected in fun and interesting ways. Due to it’s design, it could look like a train station and an Atlantic Boardwalk within seconds, simply by adding small touches.
If this version of Ragtime had been the original version in 1998, I think Lion King would have had much steeper competition. The Revival closes on the 10th of this month, 2 days from now. If you can go, then go! You will be sad you missed out on the chance!