Moonlight’s Powerful ‘Ragtime’ Explores America

Brooke Henderson and Charl Brown. (Photos courtesy of Fred Tracey.)

One of the major reasons why the 1998 epic, Ragtime, continues to be produced around the world, is because it is a relevant American story. Many of the themes involving racism, immigration and generational conflicts are topics that strike a chord with modern audiences.

These messages are explored throughout Moonlight Stage Productions strong staging of the haunting tale.

Based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow novel, the adaptation focuses on three early 20th century New York metropolitan area residents from different backgrounds. Mother (Bets Malone) is a member of a WASP family who lives in New Rochelle, a Black musician, Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Charl Brown), plays music in Harlem and a Jewish immigrant, Tateh (Geno Carr), desperately tries to make a living for himself and his daughter (Leila Manuel) by drawing silhouettes on the Lower East Side.

Terrence McNally’s book, and the musical numbers from composer, Stephen Flaherty, and lyricist, Lynn Ahrens, create empathy for the main characters. As the plot goes into darker territory, theatregoers become increasingly invested in the lives of the sympathetic individuals and their families.

Mother, Coalhouse and Tateh are full of depth, partially because of the strong performances from the leads. Malone, Brown and Carr are riveting to watch, especially during very serious numbers.

Numerous co-stars stand out as well. Particularly impressive is the work from Jason Webb, Brooke Henderson, Jake Bradford, Ralph Johnson, Emma Nossal, Berto Fernández, Gerilyn Brault and Rachael Groeneweg who play a mix of fictional and real life historical figures.

Director and choreographer, John Vaughan, presents a New York that switches from joyous to bleak and back again.

New York is visually depicted as an ever-changing state by lighting designer, Jennifer Edwards, projectionist, Blake McCarty and costume designer, Santo Loquasto.

Vaughn stages songs where members of the company beautifully harmonize together, as in the Prologue: “Ragtime,” “Success” and “New Music.”

His dance movements are highlighted in comedic and upbeat numbers, including ‘The Crime of the Century,” “Gettin’ Ready Rag” and “What a Game!”

Each of the melodies are played by a grand orchestra, led by music director and conductor, Elan McMahan. All of the musicians are worthy of the sprawling narrative, especially during tunes that focus on the ensemble.

Despite featuring the majority of the songs from Flaherty and Ahrens, there is a cut from the beginning of Act Two that I did miss. In the original Broadway production, the tune “Harry Houdini, Master Escapist” opens the second half of the tale. While this was cut in some other productions, I have always enjoyed the mysterious sequence, since the scene ominously foreshadows events that occur.

Both a critique and a celebration of America, Ragtime still packs an emotional wallop. The big show is a great fit for the Moonlight Amphitheatre.

DOWNLOAD MUSICAL NUMBERS AND CAST AND CREW HERE

[box] Show times are Wednesday through Sunday nights at 8:00 p.m. [/box]

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Moonlight Stage Productions
Work Moonlight Amphitheatre 1200 Vale Terrace Drive Vista CA 92084 USAWork Avo Playhouse 303 Main Street Vista CA 92084 USA Work Phone: (760) 724-2110 Website: Moonlight Stage Productions website
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David Dixon

A fan of theatre from a young age, David Dixon began writing reviews while in middle school, for Union Tribune’s Rated G column and sdcnn.com. He was the Entertainment Editor for SDSU’s The Daily Aztec. Currently, he contributes to San Diego Community News Network, a regional reviewer for Talkin’ Broadway, an interviewer for San Diego Theatre Reviews and has won several San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. David is a San Diego Theatre Critics Circle member, an American Theatre Critics Association member & Regional Theatre Tony Award voter.

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