While I’ve been distracted, at least a couple of pieces in this week’s Style have generated a modicum of interesting comments. One is Mr. Griset’s review of “Two Gentlemen of Verona” that prompted a somewhat obscure comment on what a review is and then a few comments that echoed the review’s sentiments.
I was also interested in this week’s Back Page about Eric Cantor. I could get a good political rant going here but I won’t. I just point to this particular piece because of how the current “debate” in Washington has been increasingly characterized as “childish.” Behaviors like tantrums, digging in of heels, name-calling, and “playing chicken” with the economy have been exhibited on both sides.
What confounds me is the contrast between those grown-ups and the “kids” that currently make up the cast, crew and orchestra of “Ragtime” that SPARC opened at CenterStage last night. The professionalism, poise, and commitment these teens (with a couple of adults and pre-teens thrown in) demonstrate in this production are truly phenomenal. It makes clear that calling the stuff happening on Capitol Hill these days “childish” is demeaning to children.
I can’t talk about “Ragtime” without first saying that I simply adore this musical. The story captures so much of the essential character and struggle that defines our great country and it’s all wrapped up in such an electrifying and enlightening package of songs and scenes.
Starting with this fantastic raw material, director Deb Clinton and musical director Blanton Bradley have crafted something extraordinary, using some of the best talent in town. Don’t get me started on Makenzie Mercer as Mother because I just might not stop. A voice that soars expressively and effortlessly, an almost ethereal calm that grounds her dramatic scenes, and much much more. I could go on but I’ll just say that I thought it couldn’t get much better than Debra Wagoner playing Mother in the concert version Chase Kniffen did a few years back. I’d say Ms. Mercer gives Debra more than a good run for her money.
Ms. Mercer is just the tip of an iceberg of remarkable breath and depth. Durron Tyre devastating and brilliant as Coalhouse, Tanner Pippert excelling in the somewhat thankless role of Father, the gorgeous Courtney Jamison as Sarah, spunky Allison Gilman as Evelyn Nesbit, spry and engaging Michael Thibodeau as Harry Houdini, Thomas Nowlin distinguished and steadfast as Booker T. Washington, even a little Timberline child milking the laugh lines as the Little Boy… It’s a cast of exceptional musical theater performers where even the ensemble is bursting with talent.
But two call-outs I must make because they involve performances that both delighted me and surprised me. Sam Brackley gives Tateh such a mature level of gravitas and handles the complicated character arc with such grace that it is unbelievable that he is still a teenager. And Brian Lampley, uncredited as the one who sings at the 2nd act funeral (don’t want to give away any plot points for anyone…), has such a rich and powerful voice that his solo – as poignant and heart-rending as it is – could have gone on forever as far as I’m concerned.
SPARC’s Ragtime may be a “school edition” of the musical but it succeeds gloriously as a truly grown-up entertainment. If I sound a little overwrought in my praise it’s because that’s exactly how the production left me: choked up with emotion, bleary-eyed with tears and nearly breathless in appreciation. And eager to go on the whole adventure again.