photo: Joan Marcus
Uninspired and unmoving, the new Broadway revival of Ragtime arrives too soon after the original not to invite damning comparisons at nearly every turn. I've seen pared-down regional productions of this show that were effective in the interim - even a staged concert version with a single piano a couple of years ago got into my tear ducts - so I can't blame the scale-back for this production's remoteness (although Derek McLane's three-tiered "dawn of the industrial age" scaffolding set isn't conducive to dynamic, involving staging - everyone always seems to be filing this way or that). This production has a weak Coalhouse and an even weaker Sarah in Quentin Earl Darrington and Stephanie Umoh respectively - neither performance has nuance or detail. When Umoh sings "Your Daddy's Son" with cradled baby she may as well be holding a sack of potatoes - one quick cursory glance at the bundle and then she's in "sing out, Louise" mode. Their version of "Wheels of A Dream" is the least involving I've ever seen - the song's opportunities to succinctly explain Coalhouse and to transition Sarah from caution to whole-hearted belief in him are squandered. Even the actors who fare far better, such as Christiane Noll as Mother for example, don't seem to have been guided toward convincing detail: it's not hard to catch her behaving with too much modernity. (The production's one superb and meticulously detailed performance is by Bobby Steggert as Younger Brother; believable at every turn from star struck stage door Johnny to rageful son to political conspirator). The spin control to promote this production - that it's really not Coalhouse's story anyhow - can't supply what's missing when we don't invest in the events of the story emotionally. The show just becomes a series of songs and we've plenty of time to wonder why the 30 piece orchestra sounds so thin and listless. We can never go back to before indeed.