Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Ragtime

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Ragtime. The book was by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, and the lyrics were by Lynn Ahrens. The music was by Stephen Flaherty with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman. Music direction was by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris. Choreography was by William Carlos Angulo. It was directed by Scott Weinstein. It was about the residents of Harlem, the rich white people, and the immigrants in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. It is about history, justice, and what America looks like. I think this is a really moving and beautiful show. I think the story is, really sadly, relevant today even though they are talking about a hundred years ago. It was an amazing show and I really enjoyed it.

My favorite storyline was about Sarah (Katherine Thomas) and Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Denzel Tsopnang). Their performances were almost flawless, which is not even exaggerating. I keep thinking about how amazing they were and will bring it up in random conversations because they were so fantastic. "Your Daddy's Son" was a song that Sarah sang to her baby to help him fall asleep which was basically about how he reminds her of his father and kind of asking for forgiveness for abandoning him. This song is still making me cry as I'm writing this. She clearly misses Coalhouse but she doesn't want to give in to actually seeing him. It is a bittersweet song and she performed it so well. "Wheels of a Dream" was their first duet, which was about how they wanted their son to have the best life he could, which was really sweet and probably the most happy song they would sing. They were so hopeful. And then their wheels of a dream get destroyed by these stupid racist firemen (Joe Capstick and Jonathan Schwart) who break their car. "Coalhouse's Soliloquy" is the song he sings right after he has faced a terrible tragedy. It was so deeply felt and it was a beautiful melody and sung beautifully. It was basically about how he would never do anything fun again because he would miss the person he lost so much. I can't even talk about "Sarah Brown Eyes," their second duet, because I'll start crying on the spot. But it was absolutely heartbreaking, goddarnit.

"He Wanted to Say" was a song about how Mother's Younger Brother (Matt Edmonds), when he was trying to join forces with Coalhouse, wanted to say so many things that he didn't. It is led by Emma Goldman (Neala Baron) and Coalhouse also wanted to say things in this song. The song is about what people want to say but don't. If they were to say those things, things may have turned out differently. In this song, all the different groups of people were together; we see an immigrant, a privileged white person, and someone who is black. I think that is what the entire play is going for, to make everyone come together and to help everyone see each other's side of the story.
The song "Justice" is the beginning of Coalhouse's dream of everyone understanding each other. But then he starts to go off the rails because he is understandably impatient because he has been working for years on getting people to understand each other. He just wants a better life for everyone already, but he realizes that people are a lot more cruel than he thought and it is not just a matter of breaking cars anymore. So he turns to violence, which he eventually decides against at the last minute. But sadly he doesn't get the peace that he was hoping he would get. The play thinks all groups in America should work togethers, but it recognizes that it is really hard to get that.

This show also had some fun moments, like "The Getting Ready Rag" where the residents of Harlem (Marcellus Burt, Danielle Davis, Frederick Harris, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely, and Juwon Tyrel Perry) help Coalhouse get ready to go see Sarah. It was super fun and by the end of the song everyone seemed to be having a very good time dancing along. "What a Game" was about the Father (Scott Allen Luke) and the Little Boy (Ben Miller) going to a ballgame and how it was not as refined as the father remembered. One of the funny moments was because the other people at the ballgame were swearing and yelling at the players, and the father was trying to keep the son from swearing. It was kind of adorable and also kind of hilarious. The father doesn't really understand what the world is like because he hasn't really seen that much of the world despite all the places he's traveled. He doesn't want to face anything that isn't exactly what he wants.

People who would like this show are people who like heartbreaking romances, the history of learning to understand each other, and swearing at ballgames. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is really amazing and it moved me to tears. I loved it!

Photos: Michael Brosilow

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