Review: Ragtime, The Musical

[by Rabbi Stanley Miles]

After experiencing the CenterStage production of Ragtime, The Musical at the Jewish Community Center, several emotions cross my mind. Firstly, I am sad. By the time you read this review the play will be a memory. Hopefully, John Leffert will bring it back in the future. The crowd present for the final Saturday night was effusive in their reaction to the drama. We laughed. We cried. We tapped our toes.

This was not my first experience with this work. I read E. L. Doctrow’s novel, Ragtime, when it was first published in 1975. The film version, directed by Milos Forman, was released in 1980. Other than Mandy Patinkin’s portrayal of Tateh, I found the film to be a disappointment.

In the late 1990’s, Ragtime was transformed into a Broadway musical. I was fortunate to see the original New York cast with one of my graduating classes from the Louisville Hebrew School. Finally Doctrow’s work was indelibly captured through the medium of musical theater.

Ragtime the novel and Ragtime, The Musical are my favorites in both genres. Why? I believe that Doctrow’s storytelling captures the essence of the American experience at the dawn of the last century. By the ingenious intermingling of fictional and historic characters he weaves stories that grab one’s heart.

In the process he is blunt in his assessments. America is no dream. It can be a nightmare for Blacks, Jews, and even the establishment. When the cast sings, “…an era exploding, a century spinning…” there are elements of both hope and terror.

My wife and I are vocal CenterStage fans. We love musical theater, and John Leffert and CenterStage bless us with the best. The cast, the orchestra and the choreography of Ragtime were uniformly excellent.

I am convinced that John Leffert is equal parts artistic director and magician. From a stage roughly the size of a postage stamp, the audience is drawn into the story. Ragtime is a long play, almost three hours in length. The time flew because we were mesmerized by the epic spectacle and beautiful music.

Of special note in the cast, Monte and Emily Fields stood out.  Monte captured the essence of Tateh, the Jewish immigrant destined to become a Hollywood mogul.  Emily’s portrayal of Mother depicted a woman who truly saw her life change and had the courage to defy convention, expand her family and keep them together in the face of overwhelming odds.  Monte and Emily are husband and wife in real life, which added even greater depth to their performance.

Tamika Skaggs, who played Sarah’s Friend, is blessed with an amazing voice.  When she sang the first act finale, “Till We Reach That Day,” tears came to my eyes.

To John Leffert and his entire cast, orchestra and crew: Bravo for a fabulous production and toda raba (thank you) for enhancing Jewish culture through CenterStage.

If you have not experienced CenterStage, don’t wait!

Editor’s note: The next CenterStage production, Company, will run January 10-20. Tickets are available at the JCC’s front desk or by calling 459-0660.

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