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Ragtime: The Musical

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One of the most powerful emotional experiences this critic has had in the theater was during the United States premiere production of Ragtime: The Musical, at Los Angeles' now demolished Shubert Theatre. That was 1997, and the stirring staging – based on the E.L. Doctorow 1975 novel of the same title, with a book by Terrance McNally and music and lyrics Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, respectively – starred Brian Stokes Mitchell and an unknown Audra McDonald. When it transferred to Broadway a year later, Ragtime led that year's Tony Award line-up with 13 nominations, winning for Original Score, Book, and Orchestrations, as well as a earning a trophy for McDonald as Best Featured Actress.

Since then, this critic has reviewed three other stagings of Ragtime, all produced in various size houses – from medium venues to a small, intimate theatre – and none has disappointed, with each having unique virtues. Now another version of this rarely produced masterwork has hit the boards in Southern California (it’s the fifth time for this critic to see or review a production of Ragtime). Brought to us by 3-D Theatricals, this two-act, 46-cast-member extravaganza, offering over 30 songs (with remarkable musical direction by Julie Lamoureux) and dance routines (exquisite choreography provided by Dana Solimando), is skillfully directed by T.J. Dawson.

Set in the early 1900s, Ragtime is an American epic that dares to traverse ethnic and class lines to explore the complicated issues of the American story. One group of well-heeled white people residing in New Rochelle, New York is represented by archetypal characters known as Mother and Father (Christanna Rowder displaying riveting vocal skills and Craig McEldowney embracing intensity). They have a son, Edgar (called Little Boy in the program), and Donavan McFann makes the most of his role as the show’s nominal narrator. Mother has an adult brother (known as Younger Brother and played beautifully by Tyler Miclean). But their idyllic world becomes disturbed with the onset of European immigrants and the presence of African Americans in their midst.

One day, after Father has left on a year-long adventure with Admiral Perry, Mother discovers a black infant buried in the garden of her ample home. The child is rescued, and the birth mother is discovered. The baby was abandoned by its mother, Sarah (the soulful Daebreon Poiema), but Mother assures authorities that she will take full responsibility for both mother and child. An African American piano player named Coalhouse Walker, Jr. is the father of Sarah’s child (an impressive and powerful performance by Rufus Bonds, Jr.), and he makes every effort to do the honorable thing. Sarah, however, is reluctant to accept Coalhouse’s overtures. And when an act of violent racism intercedes, the plot takes a stark turn.

Meanwhile, Tateh and his child, Little Girl (Gary Patent and Brooke Besikof each add gripping human interest to Ragtime’s dynamic plot), are do-or-die European arrivals. Tateh’s belief in the American Dream is what keeps him and his child on the road to success and perhaps assimilation.

With the story swirling around these groups intersecting their lives and coloring a uniquely American pallet of diversity and division, we hear songs that resonate with heartache, ambition, and exhilaration. Musical numbers such as the inspiring "Journey On," the charming and disarming "Henry Ford," the amusing "What a Game," and the affecting title song "Ragtime," make Ragtime: The Musical a visual and aural treasure trove of entertainment and insight. Historic characters are well employed to enrich and enliven the plot’s trajectory. We see vaudeville personality Evelyn Nesbit (a charming Jeanette Dawson); magician Harry Houdini (an endearing Gary Brintz); anarchist Emma Goldman (a virulent Jean Kauffman); industrialist J.P. Morgan (a muscular interpretation by John McCool Bowers); Brooker T. Washington (the extraordinary Jimmer Bolden); and Henry Ford (an expressive Robert Yacko).

With dramatic conflict to spare, a musical score to delight, and production values that are unimpeachable, 3-D Theatrical’s mounting of Ragtime is a notable and honorable achievement. It a must see for musical aficionados and American history buffs.

Ragtime: The Musical plays at Fullerton’s Plummer Auditorium – 201 East Chapman Avenue – through October 26. From November 1 through November 9 the show continues at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center – 1935 Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Redondo Beach. For reservations, call (714)589-2770. For online ticketing, show times and other details, visit Orange County Performing Arts | Musical Theatre Productions | 3-D Theatricals.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.