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A CurtainUp London Review
"I am not a baron of course. I am a poor immigrant. I am a Jew." — Tateh
"I am not a baron of course. I am a poor immigrant. I am a Jew." — Tateh
For this production of Ahrens and Flaherty's musical version of EL Doctorow's expansive novel, adapted into the book by Terrence McNally, the stage is replete with many of the cast playing their own instruments as actor musicians. This makes for excitement and added involvement as there is always some action onstage to watch as well as Ewan Jones' original choreography. The musical director Jordan Li-Smith has learnt all the music and plays the piano continuously without resort to sheet music for approaching three hours. He even sings as well.

EL Doctorow, Edgar Lawrence, and not a woman hiding behind initials was a professor and novelist who wrote Ragtime in 1975. His book blends famous people of the day with the fictional middle class family of Mother (beautifully voiced Anita Louise Combe), Father (Earl Carpenter), Younger Brother (an exciting Jonathan Stewart) and Grandfather (Anthony Cable) who meet and take care of the child of Sarah (Jennifer Saayeng) and Coalhouse Walker Jr (Ako Mitchell), an African rag time piano player. Younger Brother falls for the girl on the swing Evelyn Nesbitt (Joanna Hickman) who is involved in a jealousy murder in the jaunty song, "The Crime of the Century". Father manufactures bunting and explosives, the handling of which is a skill which Younger Brother holds.

I loved Valerie Kutko as the anarchist and campaigner Emma Goldman whose majestic presence commands the stage in "The Night That Goldman Spoke in Union Square". Ako Mitchell is well cast as Coalhouse and he doubles as a second piano player in a standout three piece checked suit. "The Getting' Ready Rag" makes you want to get up and dance with the feisty women. Tateh (Gary Tushaw) and his daughter (Alana Hinge/Riya Vyas) convince us of America as the place for those seeking a better life as Tateh makes miniature silhouettes to make a living and protects his daughter. The land of opportunity is there as he branches into animation and the beginnings of the film industry. This production of Ragtime has oodles of period drama and stage atmosphere. Tom Rogers and Toots Butcher's set provides two flexible levels of play in a wonderful set of natural wood and wooden stars and stripes.

The firemen here are unfashionable villains as Coalhouse's prize Model T Ford is destroyed and we see the pianos being dismantled plank by plank. This scene is truly shocking and has a tragic ending. In Act Two they go to watch a baseball match and the crowd are choreographed without moving off the spot with clever footwork; you'll like the baseball song, "What A Game!" "It's a civilized pastime./In a world gone mad,/There is comfort to be had/In the game Father played at school/Men of class,/Competing on the grass/Where sportsmanship/And fellowship/And courtesy are the rule." The strobe lighting gives a distinctive visual imprint. African American hero Booker T Washington (Nolan Frederick) is called in to broker a peace for Coalhouse and his men.

Thom Southerland doesn't cease to delight me with his exciting, smaller scale productions which incorporate the essence, the beauty and the musicality of these great musicals. They always have this sense of history and importance and resonate emotionally in a way that the larger vehicle often hasn't. Southerland will be bringing these must see shows to the Charing Cross Theatre, restoring its reputation for great art.

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Book by Terrence McNally
Music by Stephen Flaherty
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Thom Southerland

Starring: Earl Carpenter, Anita Louise Combe, Valerie Cutko, Nolan Frederick, Joanna Hickman, Ako Mitchell, Jennifer Saayeng, Jonathan Stewart, Gary Tushaw, Jordan Li-Smith
With: Simon Anthony, Bernadette Bangura, Anthony Cable, Christopher Dickens, Tom Giles, Alana Hinge/Riya Vyas, Lemuel Knights, Martin Ludenbach, James Mack, Seyo Omooba, Samuel Petersen, Ethan Quinn, Kate Robson Stuart, Jess Ryan
Set Designed by Tom Rogers, Toots Butcher
Costume Design: Jonathan Lipman
Sound Design: Andrew Johnson
Lighting Design: Howard Hudson
Orchestration: Mark Aspinal
Musical Director: Jordan Li-Smith
Running time: Two hours 50 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 930 650
Booking to 10th December 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 17th October 2016 performance at The Charing Cross Theatre, Villiers Street, London WC2N 6NL (Rail/Tube: Charing Cross, Embankment)
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