Theatre, Musicals
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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The Charing Cross Theatre's renaissance continues with a revival for this 1975 musical

Twenty years after it premiered in Toronto, this musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel is getting a fresh London revival. Set in New York at the turn of the twentieth century, it follows the trials and tribulations of a host of characters – white, black, Jewish, rich, poor, fictional, real-life – who are all trying to make it in a fast-changing Land of Opportunity. It’s pretty epic stuff. 

Director Thom Southerland ably presides over this intricate tapestry of characters, plotlines and songs. These vary between jaunty numbers in the title’s genre – a sort of precursor of jazz – and soaring piano-led ballads more typical to musicals. Of the ensemble cast, there are a few standouts. Anita Louise Combe provides gravitas and powerful vocals as Mother, the matriarch of a well-to-do white family who discovers an abandoned black baby in her garden. Gary Tushaw brings bombast to Latvian immigrant Tateh, desperate to provide for his daughter. And Aki Mitchell treads the right level of anger and dignity as wronged musician Coalhouse – a role that arguably forms the emotional nucleus of ‘Ragtime’. 

Any faults here lie in the original material. ‘Back to Before’ and ‘Make Them Hear You’ are undeniable showstoppers – but a few of the songs start to blur together. (Hardly surprising: there are 38 of them.) And in the second act Terrence McNally’s book starts to dash a little through the plot of Doctorow’s Great American Novel. But this production and all its complex moving parts are slickly managed and delivered with gusto. And given all that’s happening on the other side of the Pond at the moment, a story of racial prejudice and soured American dreams may well hit strike a chord beyond mere entertainment.

By: Matt Breen



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