Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Ragtime" Returns to Broadway

Ragtime, the musical based on E. L. Doctorow's novel, has returned to Broadway and has gotten rave reviews. The show revolves around the evolution of American society in the early 1900s, specifically the growing presence of African Americans and the influx of Eastern European immigrants. Like Doctorow's novel, this enormous set of changes is told by focusing on three families: a well-off WASP family in New Rochelle, an immigrant and his daughter, and an African American family.

While I am not 100% certain that the actors playing Coalhouse and Sarah will be able to erase the incredible performances of Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald, who played the couple in the original show, overall this revival looks like it is definitely worth seeing. The show's core question of "What does it mean to live in America and to be an American?" remains timely. Like all good theatre (or books or other works of art), this musical helps us to take a step back and examine society and our role in it.

In addition to this, the score is actually quite good (even if most of the songs end the same way - with [in the words of Forbidden Broadway] "a really long note). Stephen Flaherty manages to capture the flavor of the period's music while also interweaving the different influences from African Americans and immigrants, thus creating a musical tapestry that mirrors the changes that were occurring in society. Need more convincing? Just check out this montage from the revival set to the final section of the opening number.