Theatre Review

Trinity Rep closes season with 'Ragtime'

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Trinity Rep closes out its 2017-18 Season with the Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime, which was written by Terrence McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics). Under the direction of Artistic Director Curt Columbus, Trinity Rep’s production examines how the musical, which is set in 1906, reflects the country’s current political and social climate. Based on the celebrated 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, the musical tackles race, women’s rights, immigration and workers’ rights. Ragtime runs April 26 through May 27 in Trinity Rep’s Elizabeth and Malcom Chace Theater, with press opening on Monday, April 30 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25. More information can be found at www.trinityrep.com/ragtime.

The musical interweaves the stories of an upper-class white family living in New Rochelle, N.Y. at the turn of the 20th century, an African American musician from Harlem named Coalhouse Walker Jr., and Tateh, a Latvian immigrant to New York. Their paths are initially connected only by the famous, real-life figures that also appear in the show, including Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and others. Over the course of the show, the main characters lives intersect in ways that profoundly affect their families’ fates.

The Trinity Rep production of Ragtime focuses not on the lavish production that characterized the original 1998 Broadway production, which included fireworks and on-stage car, in addition to a large cast and orchestra. Instead, Columbus is focusing on the music and the story – and how this story that takes place over 100 years ago remains relevant, even urgently so – for contemporary audiences. This production features a cast of 16 and a six-person band, compared to 32 cast members and more than two dozen musicians in the original production.

Columbus’ goal is that audiences will travel through time to witness our past and bring inspiration and lessons back to the present. This vision is reflected in Eugene Lee’s set design, which places the action in a rehearsal hall. Columbus notes, “This scenic metaphor could not be more accurate. At its core, Ragtime is about how we rehearse the same issues, time and again, in the telling of the American tale.  We rehearse, as in re-hear, re-learn, and then only repeat.  The show asks difficult questions like, do we ever progress?  Do we even know how?”

Set Designer Eugene Lee also designed the set for the original Broadway production. He has been Trinity Rep’s resident designer since the company’s founding in 1967, and has won three Tony Awards for his work on Broadway, which also includes Wicked, Sweeney Todd and Candide.

Director Curt Columbus has been Trinity Rep’s artistic director since 2006. His Trinity Rep directing credits include last season’s innovative musical Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage. In addition to directing more than a dozen other productions at Trinity Rep, he is also an accomplished playwright, translator and adaptor. He recently directed his translation of Uncle Vanya at the Gamm Theater.

Columbus is joined on the creative team by Sharon Jenkins, choreographer, who most recently worked on Oklahoma! at Trinity Rep. Michael Rice will music direct and Andrew Smithson is the Choral Director. Julia Locascio is the Associate Director and Foley Artist.

Joining Eugen Lee on the design team are Kara Harmon (costume design), Dan Scully (lighting design), and Peter Sasha Hurowitz, (sound design).

The cast features many of Trinity Rep’s resident acting company members:  Janice Duclos (Emma Goldman), Mia Ellis (Sarah),  Taavon Gamble (Booker T. Washington), Rebecca Gibel (Evelyn Nesbit), Mauro Hantman (Father), Brian McEleney (Grandfather), Fred Sullivan, Jr. (J.P. Morgan), Stephen Thorne (Harry Houdini), Charlie Thurston (Tateh) and Rachael Warren (Mother). In addition to the acting company, the production will also highlight the work of Brown/Trinity Rep MFA Students Alexander De Vasconcelos Matos ’19 (Younger Brother), Evan Horwitz ’19 (Boy), Antonio Woodard ’19 (Matthew Henson), and Olivia Miller ‘19 (Girl). The cast is rounded out by visiting artists Wilkie Ferguson III (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.) Taavon Gamble (Booker T. Washington) and Carla Martinez (ensemble).

The original Broadway production led the Tony Awards nomination count with 13, and won four, including Best Original Score and Best Book. Ragtime was later revived on Broadway in 2009, the first musical from the 1990’s to do so.

Terrence McNally (book) has won numerous awards for his work as a playwright. He is the winner of Tony Awards for his plays Love! Valour! Compassion! and Master Class and his books for the musicals Ragtime and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) have been collaborating for 32 years. Together, they have written the music and lyrics for some of Broadway’s most well-known musicals. In addition to Ragtime, their credits include Seussical, Once on this Island, Anastasia, and Rocky.

Continuing Trinity Rep’s tradition of offering affordable tickets for all, the theater will have discounted previews of Ragtime. Thursday, April 26 is a Pay What You Can performance. Pay What You Can tickets go on sale at 6:30 pm that evening, and are limited to one per person.

Other special performances for this production include an Open Captioned performance for the show on Sunday, April 29 at 2 p.m. The Next Generation Night will be held on Thursday, May 3 and includes a pre-show reception for the next generation of theater-goers. The Teens Talk Back performance will be held on Friday, May 4. Trinity Rep’s Teen Ambassadors will lead a discussion with the audience following the 7:30 performance that evening. Context & Conversation will be held on Thursday, May 10 at 7:00 pm at Temple Beth-El in Providence.

Ragtime at Trinity Rep is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. The 2017-18 Season Sponsors are Ocean State Job Lot and Rhode Island Council on the Arts. Southwest is the official airline of Trinity Rep.

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