Photo: Joan Marcus
In Ragtime, Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), Stephen Flaherty (music), and Terrence McNally (book) give us a sprawling, robust, beautiful, and flawed look at the early 20th century as imagined by E.L. Doctorow in his novel of the same name. The politics are odd--for example, Coalhouse Walker Jr is too grateful for being "allowed" to own a car and have a family--and the scope of the story sometimes comes at the cost of depth and full characterizations. But the score is glorious, the lyrics are often wonderful, and the book manages to corral the three main story lines into a compelling and coherent whole. The orginal production had a magical cast led by Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Judy Kaye; this revival, having only a very very good cast, suffers in comparison. There are also fewer people in the current cast, which is unfortunate, and the show has been trimmed here and there, jarring those audience members who have memorized the CDs. The minimalist design mostly works, but the car should be a car and the piano should be a piano. Marcia Milgrom Dodge keeps the show moving like Henry Ford's assembly line (which is mostly a good thing) and nails the opening number, which is as thrilling as it should be. The ensemble members work their butts off, playing so many roles and having so many costume changes that the friend I saw it with said the dressers should get a bow. On a whole, the somewhat uneven production has many more strengths than weaknesses, and the 30-person orchestra sounds wonderful. And the point really is the score, that glorious, glorious score.