All photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Written by Patrick Chavis
American stories, Chinese stories, even Jamaican stories — there are stories that’s don’t just define individuals but define a collective idea, collective identity or at the very least a strongly perceived identity. Ragtime is a true American story because it explores the collective idea of America, the idea that anyone, no matter where you come from can make it in America. Not only does it tell this story but the musical also challenges this idea of anyone can make it in America — highlighting the real-life obstacles put against immigrants, people of color, and adherents of different faiths. To tell a story of this magnitude, any production of Ragtime needs a wide stage and big cast.
The Chance Theater utilizes its entire space to produce a good, passionate version of Ragtime. The singing is fantastic, but the sped-up direction and the lack of creative blocking highlighted some of the space limitations.
Ragtime is the story of how a lot of characters and many different stories intertwine with one another. African Americans, Coalhouse — a ragtime piano player played by Donny Wright — and Sarah played by Jennifer Talton — who have a son together, gets tangled together with a white family from the New York City suburb of New Rochelle. The family consists of Mother (Rachel Oliveros Catalano), Father (Ron Hastings), Little Boy (Brendan Knox), Grandfather (Glenn Koppel) and Younger Brother (Joseph Bricker). Their storyline also crosses paths with Russian Jewish immigrant Tateh (Wyn Moreno) and his daughter (Rebeka Hoblik) who are trying their best to make it in the new world. As the show goes on, we watch each of the characters experience success and tragedy while living their lives in America at the turn of the 20th century.
Ragtime is a musical with a little bit of everything. The music and songs are well themed, and the use of ragtime makes sense in relation to what’s going on in the story. The three main storylines are given equal time, which enables understanding of each side’s perspective. Memorable songs, interesting characters and honest powerful message about America — Ragtime gives you all it and is a remarkably beautiful work of musical theatre.
The Chance, with direction from Casey Stangl, puts on a good production of Ragtime with a few exceptions.
What’s done very well is the singing, which is one of the most important aspects. If Ragtime was just about belting and projecting then this production is fantastic. The singing from the entire cast is wonderful. Rachel Catalano sings beautifully throughout the production. I also really enjoyed Jennifer Talton and Dony Wright’s excellent voices and projection. Wright sings a heart melting, soulful rendition of “Make Them Hear You” near the end of the production. When it came to acting some of the tenser, troubling moments happened way too fast in order to keep a very long production moving.
Chance scores again in the choreography department. This time it’s because of choreographer Kelly Todd. I loved what they did with the song “Henry Ford.” They created an assembly line with their movement while they were singing.
A musical telling an American story with such passion and great singing — Ragtime at Chance Theater deserves a — you know the rest.