Arts & Culture

REVIEW: 'Ragtime' at Revival Theatre is showstopping

Revival Theatre stages complex musical with style, excellence

Greg Billman 

Musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ezekiel Andrew, center) is dancing through life before prejudice sparks tragedy in his life in “Ragtime in Concert.” Revival Theatre Co. is staging the musical through Saturday in Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
Greg Billman  Musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ezekiel Andrew, center) is dancing through life before prejudice sparks tragedy in his life in “Ragtime in Concert.” Revival Theatre Co. is staging the musical through Saturday in Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — As three worlds collide at the turn of the 20th century in New York, “Ragtime in Concert” serves as a stark reminder of how little has changed in the current climate of political, racial and economic unrest.

Music is the vehicle driving the action in “Ragtime in Concert,” which opened Thursday night to cheers throughout the show and an immediate standing ovation for the 85 people working their magic through Revival Theatre Co.

The show continues through Saturday on the Sinclair Auditorium stage at Coe College.

The 1998 Tony-winning musical weaves the lives of fictional characters through the context of historical giants, from Houdini and Henry Ford to anarchist and political activist Emma Goldman.

Three main stories revolve around upper-class Mother (Amy Friedl Stoner) and Father (Tim Riven); immigrant Tateh (Casey Prince) and his nameless daughter (Lily Adams); and black musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Ezekiel Andrew) and his love, Sarah (Trina Harris).

All are facing unspeakable challenges.

Mother is scorned by her husband and neighbors for bringing Coalhouse, Sarah and their infant son into her very white world of suburban New Rochelle, N.Y.

It’s a million miles from Harlem where Coal-house is igniting a ragtime music craze, making enough money to buy a Model T.

When the white fire chief and his firemen refuse him passage on their road, they spark a series of tragedies that spirals Coalhouse down a path of destruction and despair.

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Mother also has a chance meeting with Tateh, an artist and immigrant from Latvia who is seeking a better life for his daughter in America, but instead is greeted with scorn, is spat upon and told to go home.

Every song is a showstopper of passion and rhythmic complexity. All are performed with the utmost artistry in a cast populated with the region’s musical theater elite, including Jordan Arnold, Aaron Brewer, Brett Borden, Steve Rezabek, Alicia Strong, Jackson Bartelme, and Rosemary and Daniel Gast from the Wartburg vocal music staff, as well as numerous others who have had leading or supporting roles on area stages. Joshua William Green, a professional actor from Manhattan, steps into Booker T. Washington’s shoes as the voice of reason in unreasonable situations.

All of the principal actors own their moments in the spotlight.

But Andrew, a professional musical theater and opera performer from Mississippi, soars straight to the top as Coalhouse Walker Jr.

His booming, resonant baritone and assured stature capture the confidence and heart shattered as the hatred around him engulfs and destroys his dreams.

Harris is his match, embodying the anguish of their lives, where they are scorned for the color of their skin.

Separately, their songs cut straight to your soul, but together, their duets alternately lift and crush your spirits.

Stoner’s glorious soprano shimmers in Mother’s determination to be part of the solution, not the problem, and Prince, who needs to be onstage more often, brings power to Tateh’s drive to rise above poverty and live the American dream. Arnold offers moments of levity as a vaudeville star who punctuates her life with high-pitched squeals of “whee” and kicky showgirl song-and-dance numbers.

Rounding out the high-quality production are creative and captivating choreography from Alvon Reed; visionary artistic direction from Brian Glick and Cameron Sullenberger; exquisite costumes from Kathryn Huang and hair and makeup designs from Sarah Fried; crisp orchestral conducting from Michelle Perrin Blair from the Coe faculty; and imaginative lighting and scenic projections from Scott Olinger.

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Never do you feel you are watching a concert. This is a sophisticated staging of a most sophisticated show, with a sweeping musical score that challenges the best musicians.

Several unfortunate microphone issues cropped up opening night, but disappeared by Act II.

Revival Theatre’s season continues at Coe with “The Bridges of Madison County” from May 31 to June 3 in Dows Theatre, and “Sunday in the Park with George” from Nov. 15 to 17 in Sinclair Auditorium.

If you go

What: Revival Theatre Co. presents “Ragtime in Concert”

Where: Sinclair Auditorium, Coe College, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $40 general admission, $20 student rush; Orchestra Iowa Box Office, (319) 366-8203 or Artsiowa.com/tickets/concerts/ragtime-in-concert/

Details: Revivaltheatrecompany.com/ragtime/

l Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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