‘Ragtime’ is Giving the Nation a New Syncopation

For the first three weekends in April, the Lake Worth Playhouse is closing out their 2023/24 season with the award-winning musical Ragtime. This timeless tale transports audience members back to early-twentieth-century New York, where we follow the intersecting journeys of three very different individuals, played by actors who give unforgettable performances: Mother (Jessica Perry), a wealthy White housewife constrained by the demands of her upper-class life in New Rochelle, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Chase Stante), a talented Black pianist fighting for change in Harlem, and Tateh (Tom Hallett) an ambitious Jewish artist who has recently immigrated to the Lower East Side from Latvia with his young daughter.

Their three separate worlds are constantly connected throughout the story, aided by the narration of various historical figures, including Evelyn Nesbit (Jamie Mattocks), Emma Goldman (Kelly Williams), J.P. Morgan (Matthew Schenk), Harry Houdini (Billy Hannam), Henry Ford (Steven Toffler), and Booker T. Washington (Kevin Holloway). In a winning blend of fact and fiction, set to a deceptively lighthearted score inspired, of course, by the Ragtime musical style itself, Ragtime tackles a variety of themes that still remain relevant today—racial inequality, gender inequality, immigration, injustice, technological evolution, and so many more—amidst the ever-changing landscape of American society. 

The production shines under the expert direction of Sabrina Lynn Gore, who aims to “let the story of Ragtime act as a bridge across the chasm and bring you closer to your humanity.” Gore ensures that the show is a “true ensemble piece,” as she so perfectly puts it. There is never a dull moment throughout the entire two-and-a-half-hour runtime—the stage is filled with movement from start to finish, cast members taking up every corner. The production team and crew does a masterful job of bringing the story to life and fully grounding audience members in the show’s setting.

The costumes, curated by Costume Designers Jill Williams and Joanne DePrizio, immediately whisked me away to turn-of-the-century New York. I appreciated how thoughtfully the costumes were chosen, clearly made to fit the wide range of characters and their own trajectories. The privileged New Rochelle residents wear elegant Edwardian-style suits and gowns in classic hues of white and cream, with hats and parasols to complete the look. The stylish inhabitants of Harlem are outfitted in brighter, bolder colors and patterns—I loved the jewel tones we see the female ensemble wearing at many points in the show, but Sarah (Cam Davis)’s green dress is a definite standout. Finally, the immigrants of the Lower East Side are decked out in more neutral colors, a palette composing shades of gray, brown, and black, emphasizing their destitute state and initial difficulties adapting to their new life in the city. 

Photos by Bad Hair Day Photography

The masterful work of Choreographer Kassie Meiler, Set/Lighting Designer Ardean Landhuis, and Music Director Erin Ragonese also assists in setting the scene and providing snapshots into different moments in time. The “Henry Ford” number, with its almost mechanical dance moves and its factory set, details the rapid technological changes American society was experiencing at the time, forcing workers to quickly adapt and fall in line. Meanwhile, “What A Game!” gives the audience an exciting look into America’s favorite pastime, while also highlighting the prejudice present in society, and how a seemingly simple escape to a baseball game demonstrated how out-of-touch some of the characters have become.

Other songs leave an emotional impact on the audience throughout, such as “Wheels of a Dream,” wherein Coalhouse and Sarah express their hopes for their young son, “Till We Reach That Day,” which laments Sarah’s brutal death at the hands of the Secret Service, and “Make Them Hear You,” where Coalhouse professes a message of hope. Perhaps the most powerful numbers of the show, in my opinion, are “Prologue: Ragtime” and its companion piece, “Epilogue: Ragtime (Reprise)/Wheels of a Dream (Reprise),” which serve as bookends for the story, centering the characters’ paths and the inevitable changes that took place over the course of the Ragtime years.

Photos by Bad Hair Day Photography

With show-stopping performances and an immersive setting, Ragtime draws audiences into a bygone era that is still so pertinent today. There is something truly special about witnessing a musical that not only gives viewers a fascinating glimpse into historical events, but also says something important about the times we are currently living in and all the progress we have made over time (and how much more can still be made). While characters like Mother and Father, Coalhouse and Sarah, Tateh and Little Girl, lived hundreds of years ago, their stories undoubtedly still resonate with those sitting in the audience at the Lake Worth Playhouse, myself included. Ragtime makes a specific narrative so universal; what is old, new again. You only have two more weekends to listen to the “rhythm and rhyme” of Ragtime—and you certainly won’t want to miss it. 

Ragtime runs through April 21 at the Lake Worth Playhouse. Tickets can be purchased here.

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *