Review by Danny Gaisin
Sixteen years ago, Garth Drabinsky staged way up in North York, a big-dollar presentation of the McNally/Flaherty/Ahrens musical about the last century’s first decade. Rumour has it that such an expensive undertaking was what financially killed Livent. The play looks at the turn-of-the-last century era from three different entities: – white, black and immigrant. Photo courtesy of Emily Cooper
Director Jackie Maxwell has put her focus on a parallel plane…politics, economics and social customs. This is more than a music-lovers show…it’s a thinking person’s presentation. Maxwell has wisely kept her staging to a simple non-distracting minimum, thus allowing the emphasis to be on her three divergent groups with attention focused on their dominant character.
The WASP unit is drawn around Patty Jamieson whose ‘mother’ image is more than just maternal. She is the dominant character of the entire play. Categorizing her, even by today’s mores, is almost an enigma. Weak and feminine, yet with fortitude and survival strength, Jamieson brings a dimension to her portrayal that makes the character an icon worthy of emulating. She evolves with each new circumstance and adjusts to realities. Her interpretation of ‘Back to before’ is a show stopper. Jamison’s interaction with her pre-teen son played by Aidan Tye (alt. –Jayden Carmichael) touches home. He’s a perfect foil & straight man during the parental disputes and separations. Tye is a triple-threat actor, singer & dancer. Not too shabby for an eleven-year-old.
The pivotal role of black musician Coalhouse Walker is dynamically rendered by Thom Allison. His indomitability and sense of self come across as intrinsic to the man himself. He has the responsibility of singing the show’s major piece “Wheels of a dream”. His rendering, (& undoubtedly Maxwell’s objective) make the piece into a stirring anthem. During the various incidents of his exposure to overt bigotry, Allison presents an almost regal dignity. He, his girlfriend Sarah (Alana Hibbert) and the members of his faction are also the dance troupe and Valerie Moore’s choreography epitomizes the Rag era styling.
The immigrants are stereotyped by Jay Turvey as a Lithuanian Jew and his daughter Eden Kennedy (alternating with Morgan Hilliker). His aspirations, disillusionment, desperation and serendipitous opportunity realistically mirror the phases our Grandparents endured when they left the shtetl for der goldener medina that Middle Eastern Jewry imagined America to be. Somehow, Kennedy’s “Tateh” is a little too ‘Tevye” for this writer and I kept waiting for the traditional melting-pot efforts that ‘greeners’ undertook, to finally kick in. It didn’t.
The fusing vehicle for all the groups is the music. Paul Sportelli once again shows his talent for integrating the composer’s notes to the ambiance of the play and also to the emphasis the director is trying to place. In RAGTIME both succeed. Using small spots and moving staircases, the 3 different protagonists pass – figuratively & literally as ships on the sea…each going or coming according to their own objectives. The costumes are realistic; the special effects shocking and dynamite (pun intended) in their effectiveness. Last night I mentioned TOP TEN potential, RAGTIME is not only a contender certainty, it’s probably this year’s Shaw must see!