Rolan Bell and Claudia Kariuki in Ragtime
Published: 31 May, 2012
by HOWARD LOXTON
A huge billboard showing Barack Obama and quoting his “Dare to Dream” backed by the US flag dominates the smoking wasteland of Jon Bausor’s set for Terence McNally’s musical adaptation of EL Doctorow’s novel.
The hope of the President’s message is countered by the scorched hole blasted through its middle.
It gives this early 20th-century story a modern frame.
In New Rochelle, outside New York, there’s a comfortably off family, one grandad a firework maker, the other a professor of Greek, dad about to go off on Peary’s expedition to the Pole.
His ship sails past the one arriving with Jewish Lithuanian immigrant Tateh, arriving with his little girl.
Thirdly, there is black pianist Coalhouse Walker and Sarah and their baby.
Through these personal stories we get a picture of American social and political history: the struggle of the immigrant, the racism, the prejudice.
Harry Houdini, freeing himself from chain is there, a metaphor for the fight for emancipation (a lovely performance from Stephane Anelli), and other historical figures become part of the action.
Things move swiftly in Timothy Sheader’s lively well-sung production, with an appealing Walker from Rolan Bell, Rosalie Craig winning hearts as the compassionate Mother and John Marquez as Tateh.
Stephen Flaherty’s score, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, ranges through ragtime and revivalist, and Javier de Frutos’s choreography is full of humour.
There are errors – a clapperboard used in making a silent movie and it’s confusing to cast across colour in a plot concerned with colour.
At times you have to concentrate hard to work out what’s happening but is still hugely enjoyable.
But, though the lively music and the energy of the performers lift your spirits, it is the American Dream’s failure to match egalitarian hopes that this production punches home.
UNTIL September 8
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