Famous figures of the 1910s and early ’20s are woven throughout. There are happy capitalists – Henry Ford (John O’May) bursts into mechanised ditties, while financier J.P. Morgan (Anton Berezin) looms in the background. There are activists – anarchist and labour organiser Emma Goldman (Sage Douglas), the African-American leader Booker T. Washington (Joti Gore) – seeking justice for all.
And there are entertainers and celebrities: Harry Houdini (Louis Lucente) makes an appearance, as does socialite turned vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit (Mackenzie Dunn).
But the well-to-do white family connecting all the stories remains unnamed. While the Father (Adam Murphy) is on an Arctic expedition, the Mother (Georgina Hopson) opens her house and her heart to a young coloured woman in trouble.
When Sarah (Chloe Zuel) abandons her newborn baby, born out of wedlock to piano player and pioneer of ragtime, Coalhouse Walker Jr (Kurt Kansley), the Mother takes them both in, until Sarah and Coalhouse can be reunited.
They are, but their happiness is short-lived. Coalhouse refuses to take racism lying down, and his thirst for justice will lead to tragedy, as he takes the law into his own, grief-stricken hands.
Meanwhile, migrants flock to the melting pot of New York. European Jews such as Tateh (Alexander Lewis) escape persecution, but the promise of freedom belies harsh reality, and Tateh must reinvent himself in a new land, for a new age.
The production features excellent lead vocals, especially from Kansley and Zuel as the doomed lovers: Kansley’s tormented portrayal of a good man wronged is sung with fire in the soul, and Zuel’s angelic purity of tone, not to mention soaring grace-notes, stopped the show several times with rapturous applause. (Her character’s fate also inspires the first act finale, Till We Reach That Day, a rousing hymn for deliverance from racial oppression, unleashed with staggering power and intensity of emotion.)
Chloe Zuel’s angelic purity of tone, not to mention soaring grace-notes, stopped the show several times with rapturous applause.
Hopson’s Mother anchors the picaresque narrative, her compassion delivered alongside an emboldened sense of her own agency. And Lewis as Tateh has a nimble tenor that leaps over every impediment in the migrant’s way to balance the romantic tragedy of Coalhouse’s story.
Ragtime is a marvellous production, a crowning achievement for The Production Company, and a must-see for any musical theatre fan worthy of the name.