Friday, November 13, 2009
photo: Joan Marcus
Stark, beautiful and bone-chilling, Marcia Milgrom Dodge's production of Ragtime (at the Neil Simon Theatre, via The Kennedy Center) sets a new standard for musical revivals on Broadway. Dodge is hardly the first director to offer a stripped-down interpretation of Aherns & Flaherty's masterpiece--London and The Papermill Playhouse have both seen productions that feature no piano onstage and black chairs standing in for Coalhouse Walker's car and Evelyn Nesbit's swing--but she manages to strike the most copacetic balance to date. She gives the audience just enough grandeur to assuage any fears that the production might have been done on the cheap, but uses deconstruction wisely; the images of music emanating from Coalhouse's glass piano, or of him walking his beloved Model-T across the stage are striking. The cast, from top to bottom, is perfection and quite often made me forget their predecessors (high praise indeed), but three individuals deserve special mention: Robert Petkoff, an ideal Tateh; Bobby Steggert, who manages to capture Younger Brother's idealism without making him seem overly quixotic; and Christiane Noll, whose brilliant Mother emerges as a rational, highly intelligent woman stifled by the society in which she lives. To watch her transformation from idyllic homemaker to independent proto-feminist was nothing short of astonishing.