Wednesday, October 08, 2008

An Uplifting Work of Staggering Brilliance

Spouses are wonderful things. If you don’t have one, I heartily suggest you go out and get one.

I say this because last week my lovely wife was talking about the concert version of “Ragtime” and about making plans to go and, mired as I often am in the daunting logistics and responsibilities that fill my blessed life to overflowing, I expressed vague discontent about wanting to try to fit it in. Well, she was planning to go whether I was going or not, and she encouraged me to get over myself and get my ass out there.

OH. MY. GOD. The production that the enterprising young Artistic Director at Stage 1, Chase Kniffen, put together (along with legions of helpers, including his managing director Peggy Thibodeau) was breathtaking. If this is the kind of work we can expect from Stage 1, well, there is no doubt that this newest theater company will have a big impact on the local scene.

The articulate Mr. Miller at the Barksdale Blog has already done a great job of talking about the event, placing it in context and describing the vibe. I’ll just add a few of my favorite moments / aspects:

Ø What a great subdued feeling there was as the performers came on stage. Who could have known what awesomeness was about to be unleashed?

Ø Richard Koch’s Russian accent was just one reason I loved his performance. Richard is so good at being a vibrant comic character, it was a treat to see him portray such depth and humanity with his Tateh.

Ø Debra Wagoner’s sweetness and empathy was as clear as her mighty voice. Some people wear their hearts on their sleeve; can an actress wear hers on her vocal chords? If so, that would be Debra whose compelling performance centered the whole production.

Ø Jerold Solomon and Desiree Roots Centeio delivered the killer song of the night with “Wheels of a Dream” and I was sure the house was going to leap into a standing ovation right after it was over. But as affecting to me as hearing those two fabulously accomplished singers was to watch people like Robyn O’Neill and Jan Guarino watching the performance with absolutely rapt wonder and admiration. Here are two veterans of literally dozens of shows who have seen – and have been responsible for – hundreds of magic moments on stage, but it was clear that they were as blown away as the rest of us. Do I tear up just at the memory? Oh, yes I do. (And PS to Jerold: please come back to Richmond again. Please! It was great to see you and experience your big, bold voice once again.)

Ø Katrinah Lewis as “Sarah’s Friend” – though uncredited – was also an emotional knockout. Her unrestrained delivery of “Til We Reach That Day” rocked the house and seemed to rock her down to her toes as well. I could have watched her do that song over and over again.

Ø There was much comic relief to be found in “What a Game,” just one of the great songs that highlighted a truly incredible ensemble. To see the likes of Audra Honaker, Alia Bisharat, Cathy Motley-Fitch, Jackie Jones, Billy Christopher Maupin, Dustin Faltz, Maggie Roop, Ali Thibodaeu, and many many more – all of them headliners in their own right – singing backup was just one barometer of the strength of the crew that Chase put together.

When the show ended, I was weighed down with an alternately sleepy and grumpy 4-year old so I didn’t get to give my congratulations to many people face-to-face. But the whole Ragtime crew – including musical director Sherri Matthews – deserves a thunderous thanks and congratulations for this accomplishment. I now look forward to “tick…tick…Boom!” with feverish anticipation!


Thespis' Little Helper said...

I thought I was going to pee my pants every time Debra sang "Back to Before". What a beautiful and PERFECT way you describe her performance! Stellar vocalist! And such an incredible actor!!! I keep longing to see her do more plays!

Sherri was INCREDIBLE! What a musician she is! FANTASTIC music director!

It was really so incredible to get to work on this show! Such an incredible piece of theatre and especially with this group of people!

Congrats to Chase and Peggy! I'm really thrilled that they are filling a niche that is begging to be filled!

Thespis' Little Helper said...

Oh! I meant to add that Debra will be singing "Back to Before" again at the Equality Virginia Benefit at the Firehouse next Tuesday! (So I'm sure I'll need to prepare...I'm bringing my Depends.)

Anonymous said...

How I wish Richmond theatres could afford to have a full orchestra more often - Debra Wagoner deserves it! She rocked the house. All was great.

Dave - a reminder to add Stage 1 to your theatre directory.