Community Theater Corner:
Stagecrafters presents ‘Ragtime’
ROYAL OAK – Twenty-first century audiences will get a front-row seat for the dawn of the twentieth century and experience the forces that shaped modern America as Stagecrafters presents the musical “Ragtime,” based on the landmark 1975 E. L. Doctorow novel. The show will run May 26 thru June 18 at the Baldwin Theatre in downtown Royal Oak.
“Ragtime” combines fictional and historical characters to create a panoramic view of an America dizzy from technological innovations and the resulting social upheaval. The three distinct groups that become dramatically intertwined are embodied chiefly by Mother (played by Heather Yanke), an upper-middle-class WASP housewife whose serene home-life is disrupted by the discovery of an abandoned infant while her distant adventurer husband (Marc Meyers) explores the Arctic; Coalhouse (Marlon Smith-Jones), a successful Harlem musician whose efforts to regain the affections of his beloved Sarah (Adrienne Webster) are complicated by a bigoted fire chief (Rick Lee); and Tateh (Jamie Richards), a Jewish immigrant whose desire to build a better life for his motherless child brings them from Latvia to a dangerous and cruel New York City. Their emotional and geographic journeys bring them in contact with such icons of the era as Booker T. Washington (Desmond Walker), Harry Houdini (Jeff Weiner), J. P. Morgan (Ed Berger), Henry Ford (Tom Arwady), Emma Goldman (Linda Freeze) and Evelyn Nesbit (Debra Dworkin).
Fashioning a coherent evening of musical theatre out of Doctorow’s expansive cast of characters and varied settings might seem an insurmountable challenge for an adapter. In this case, the task is ably handled by much-honored playwright Terrence McNally, best-known not for musicals but for plays such as “Frankie and Johnny at the Claire de Lune” (which Stagecrafters produced on its 2nd Stage) and “Love! Valour! Compassion!” McNally’s labor on “Ragtime” paid off: The book earned him one of the four Tony Awards he has earned for writing.
To director Rick Bodick, McNally’s adaptation goes beyond merely presenting a picture of a specific point in American history; it resonates with themes that are still prominent in the cultural landscape. “Its focus on conflict between races, classes and family members is still incredibly relevant today.” He is quick to add that “Ragtime” does not simplify these tensions or seek to provide easy answers. “It makes us think and feel about these (and other subjects) without being preachy or condescending.”
“Ragtime’s” complex and layered book is supported by an appropriately intricate and lush score by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Aherns, the team behind “A Man of No Importance” and “Seussical”, both well-received by Stagecrafters’ audiences last season, and “Once on This Island” (which Stagecrafters will present on its Main Stage next January). Aherns’ elegant lyrics provide audiences with a much-needed window into the myriad characters, keeping the epic events grounded in individual experiences moments of personal transformation. At the same time, Flaherty deftly plays with traditional turn-of-the-century musical forms, including gospel and, of course, Scott Joplin-esque rag music, which serves as a metaphor for the changing times as its African American-born syncopations permeate genteel white society.
Music director Matt Horn was eager to be a part of “Ragtime” because he sees it as “a singer’s show.” According to Horn, “‘Ragtime’ rolls out the powerhouse musical moments one after the next!” To illustrate this point, he recalls the first time he saw the show in its pre-Broadway try-out in Toronto: “Several times during the first act, the musical climax seemed to indicate the intermission was coming, and yet the show continued on to yet another, even more powerful, musical and emotional moment.”
To Bodick, this rare combination of an equally ingenious book and score makes “Ragtime” a must-see. “I feel this is one of the best musicals to come along in the last twenty-five years. Its combination of a stirring memorable score and an epic yet involving story moved and inspired me each of the five times I have seen it.”
For tickets or information, call Stagecrafters at 248-541-6430 or log on to http://www.stagecrafters.org.
From Our Hallowed Halls of Learning:
Oakland University presents ‘Honk!’
ROCHESTER – Oakland University’s Department of Music, Theatre and Dance presents “Honk!’ with music by George Stiles and book and lyrics by Anthony Drewe. Guest Director is Janet Cleveland; Musical Director is Fred Love.
Performances are Wednesday, May 31 at 10 a.m.; Thursday, June 1 at 10 a.m.; Friday, June 2 at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday, June 3 at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m. Performances will be held in Varner Recital Hall.
Having Janet Cleveland agree to be the guest director for “Honk!” – Oakland University’s last theatre offering of the season – is considered quite an honor, according to Theatre Program Director Kerro Knox. “Bringing in a guest director is a special opportunity for our students, and we are excited to work with a professional from right here in Detroit.” Cleveland has a reputation of dedication to education and outreach with many area organizations, including Plowshares Theater Company, Detroit Repertory Theatre and Arts Centered Education in Detroit.
“Honk!” is theatre for all ages, with its familiar story of the Ugly Duckling for the kids, and its slightly sophisticated language interspersed throughout the dialogue and lyrics for grownups. No wonder this show beat “The Lion King” out of the Olivier Award, the British equivalent to the Tony, in 2000.
Tickets are $12 general, $6 student and $6 for a 10 am matinee. The Sunday, June 4 at 2 p.m. performance is sign-interpreted by Terp Theatre.
For more information, call the Varner Box Office at 248-370-3013.
Stratford Festival News:
‘Henry IV, Part 1’ begins previews at Stratford Festival
STRATFORD, ONT. – The Stratford Festival of Canada’s production of Shakespeare’s historical drama “Henry IV, Part 1,” directed by Artistic Director Richard Monette with Scott Wentworth as King Henry IV, David Snelgrove as Henry, Prince of Wales (Hal or Harry) and James Blendick as Sir John Falstaff, began previews May 15 at the Tom Patterson Theatre. “Henry IV, Part 1” takes place as King Henry IV struggles to quell a rebellion led by his former supporters while despairing over his son, Prince Hal, who is preparing for his future role in life by reveling in the seamy world of cutpurses, bawds and drunkards in the company of that ultimate lord of misrule, the uproariously amoral Sir John Falstaff.
The associate director of “Henry IV, Part 1” is Timothy Askew and the fight directors are James Binkley and John Stead. Sets and costumes are designed by Dana Osborne. The lighting designer is Steven Hawkins and the sound designer is Wade Staples. Keith Thomas is the composer. “Henry IV, Part 1” features a dance staged by Lawrence Haegert.
The production features Sean Arbuckle as Thomas Percy, Domini Blythe as Mistress Quickly, Joyce Campion as a Tavern Wench, Laura Condlln as Lady Mortimer and a Tavern Wench, Steve Cumyn as Sir Walter Blunt, Keith Dinicol as Gadshill, Lawrence Haegert as Edward (Ned) Poins, Ron Kennell as the Chamberlain and an Ostler, Stephen Kent as Lord John of Lancaster, Tim MacDonald as the Earl of Westmoreland and Peto, Barry MacGregor as Bardolph, Jennifer Mawhinney as Lady Percy (Kate) and a Tavern Wench, Gordon S. Miller as Edmund Mortimer and Francis, Adam O’Byrne as Henry Percy (Hotspur), Raymond O’Neill as Owen Glendower and First Traveller, Roger Shank as Archibald and Sheriff, Joseph Shaw as Richard Scroop and Vintner, Andre Sills as Second Carrier (Tom) and Messenger from Northumberland, Brian Tree as Henry Percy and Sir Richard Vernon and Adam Waxman as Sir Michael, First Carrier (Mugs) and Hotspur’s servant. Severn Thompson is the understudy for the roles of Lady Mortimer and Lady Percy.
“Henry IV, Part 1,” generously sponsored by Great-West Life, London Life & Canada Life, began preview performances May 15 and opens May 31; it plays in repertory until September 24.
Tickets are available at 1-800-567-1600 or through http://www.stratfordfestival.ca.