“Ragtime” – Theater Works

This review aired on KBAQ November 11, 2013


Theater Works, Peoria Center for the Performing Arts
Peoria, AZ

“Ragtime” is a great American musical that shows how various ethnic cultures established this country in the early 20th century.  But it is a huge show that demands a large cast, an elaborate physical production, and the intricate songs and dances require a gifted director who creates stunning stage pictures.

Peoria’s Theater Works mounts a superb “Ragtime” and this is from a critic who saw the brilliant original production in Los Angeles before the show’s 1998 Broadway premiere.  This “Ragtime” places Theater Works as one of our outstanding local theater companies.  What works so marvelously here is the superb 35-person cast who create the complex characters and the difficult situations each person faces with brilliant authenticity.

Director Phillip Fazio simplifies the original staging but still delivers a grandly scaled masterpiece.  Couple these outstanding accomplishments with an elaborate and swiftly moving physical production that captured the period beautifully along with a succession of historically accurate costumes that transformed the actors into the rich, poor, and middle class characters they represent.

The musical presents three distinctive groups of Americans, an African-American family, an upper middle class New Rochelle family, and an Eastern European Jewish family.  These three groups survive on their own, but they mix to make this country diverse.  Along with the three families comes a succession of well known historical figures who added to this country’s riches.

Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Harlem musician, represents the Blacks; Mother, Father, and their children are the rich; while Tateh (ta tay) and his daughter are the Jewish immigrants.  “Ragtime” shows these people developing America as they face graphically displayed racial injustice.  The show is based on E. L. Doctrow’s novel as adapted by Terrence McNally with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ grand melodies.

Sarah Wolter is a superb Mother and Matt Zimmerer is stalwart as the opinionated Father.  John Haubner crafts a fascinating portrait of Mother’s younger brother.  As Coalhouse, Miguel Jackson is the show’s central focus and Jackson commands attention with his fine portrayal.  As his intended, Sarah, Krystal Pope is a wonderful singing actor.  Tony Bolsser creates a staunchly real immigrant in his Tateh (ta tay).  The children are some of the most professionally poised I’ve ever seen on stage while other characters are created with sincerity and conviction.  Steve Hilderbrand’s orchestra handles the challenging score with a professional sheen.

“Ragtime” is a rich and vividly presented historical portrait of this country.  Any serious theatergoer owes themselves a trip to the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts to see Theater Works stellar “Ragtime” that continues through Sunday, November 17.  For tickets, call the Peoria Center for the Performing Arts box office at 623-815-7930 or order tickets online at www.theaterworks.org.

Grade: A