Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Ragtime
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule


The Cast
Photo by Christopher Mueller
The magic of Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is how it can produce epic works of musical theatre in a compact space. Its resplendent production of Ragtime brings together 33 actors on the stage of the MAX Theatre; the 16 orchestra members perform from a wrought-iron bandstand suspended above the stage, all part of Lee Savage's clever and functional scenic design.

Director Matthew Gardiner has ably organized his company of singing, dancing actors to tell the intertwined stories in Terrence McNally's book, skillfully adapted from the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow. Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens bring the early 20th century to life through a rapturous score that identifies the three diverse groups of characters: a wealthy, complacent white family in suburban New Rochelle, New York; a Russian Jewish father and his young daughter arriving at Ellis Island; and, in Harlem, a proud ragtime pianist and the woman he loves. (Since 25 years have passed since the musical's Broadway premiere, Signature includes with the program a faux newspaper providing additional context regarding the real people and events referenced in the script.)

Teal Wicks gives a serene and golden-voiced performance as Mother, whose sheltered life changes when she encounters a desperate Black domestic worker named Sarah (Awa Sal Secka, whose performance can wring the heart but also demonstrates moments of great joy and emotional depth). As Tateh, the struggling immigrant, Bobby Smith brings depth to a man who makes his way through optimism, despair, and ultimately a life he never could have anticipated.

The one capable but not standout lead performer is Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Black man driven to extremes by vicious racist attacks. Gatling's performance never really reaches the necessary boiling point: he's angry but mostly reserved, even when preparing to go to war with one of the richest men in the United States.

Other standouts include Maria Rizzo as Evelyn Nesbit, a model propelled to vaudeville success by personal scandal and tragedy, who realizes too late that "justice is never fair"; Jake Loewenthal as Mother's Younger Brother, a child of privilege looking for purpose in his life; Todd Scofield as the pompous banking titan J.P. Morgan; and Matthew Lamb as the Little Boy, whose wonder and precocious awareness help drive the story.

Gardiner and choreographer Ashleigh King seem to keep the performers in continuous motion, aided by the momentum of the turntable in the middle of Savage's set. Erik Teague has created character-defining costumes–mostly white for Mother, bright colors and patterns for the Harlem residents, and an amusing way to demonstrate the change in Tateh's fortunes–and Tyler Micoleau's lighting design magically turns the stage into the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Ragtime runs through January 7, 2024, at Signature Theatre, MAX Theater, 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington VA. For tickets and information, please call 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or visit www.signature-theatre.org.

Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow
Directed by Matthew Gardiner
Choreographed by Ashleigh King
Music direction by Jon Kalbfleisch

Cast: The Little Boy: Matthew Lamb
Father: Bill English
Mother: Teal Wicks
Mother's Younger Brother: Jake Loewenthal
Grandfather: Lawrence Redmond
Coalhouse Walker Jr.: Nkrumah Gatling
Sarah: Awa Sel Secka
Booker T. Washington: Tobias A. Young
Tateh: Bobby Smith
The Little Girl: Avery Laina Harris or Emerson Holt Lacayo
Harry Houdini: Edward L. Simon
J.P. Morgan: Todd Scofield
Henry Ford: Douglas Ullman Jr.
Emma Goldman: Dani Stoller
Evelyn Nesbit: Maria Rizzo
Admiral Peary: Todd Scofield
Matthew Henson: Keenan McCarter
Kathleen: Erin Driscoll
Sarah's Friend: Jordyn Taylor
Willie Conklin: Gregory Twomey
Brigit: Claire Leyden
Charles S. Whitman: Lawrence Redmond
Coalhouse Walker III: Jonathan Keith or Maxwell Kwadjo Talbert
Ensemble: Erin Driscoll, Ariel Friendly, Claire Leyden, Keenan McCarter, Nurney, Lawrence Redmond, Maria Rizzo, Theodore Sapp, Todd Scofield, Edward L. Simon, Dani Stoller, Jordyn Taylor, Gregory Twomey, Douglas Ullman Jr., Kara-Tameika Watkins, Tobias A. Young


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