Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   ,

Ragtime. Photographer Alan Dean

The insistent syncopation of the ragtime motif, stylized patterns and defining colours form lasting images as the stories emerge in Ragtime: The Musical.

The award-winning show opens with a presentation of three different perspectives in the years leading up to World War I. We meet the privileged whites of La Rochelle, New York, safe in their separation from the difficulties faced by the others. Next, we are introduced to representatives of those groups — the black Harlem community with the music that makes their difficult lives easier and the immigrants facing even greater hardship as they try to establish themselves in their new land.

Each group is represented by key figures: the white nuclear family; black pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, the love of his life, and Tateh, the Latvian Jewish immigrant and his young daughter. Eventually, their lives will cross. Meanwhile, such historical figures as escape artist Harry Houdini, glamour girl Evelyn Nesbit, political activist Emma Goldman and entrepreneur J.P. Morgan float in and out of the sweeping tale of Terrence McNally’s 1996 musical Ragtime, based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.

Given the current atmosphere in the U.S., some aspects of the storyline are especially depressing. This aside, Ragtime is frequently moving as the “faction” covers historical events or people and happenings that might have been, given the ambience then and now.

Ragtime is challenging on many levels. In addition to the usual demands of any major musical with a complex score and specific stylistic requirements, the particulars of casting, costuming and set requirements, the wide swath of changing times through the period covered and the occasional choppiness of the material would give any production team and cast pause.

As directed by Bob Lackey, with musical direction by Terry Duncan and choreography by Lisa Wagner, the Orpheus Musical Theatre Society production is visually, vocally and musically attractive.

Generally strong musically, the pairing of Tzeitel Abrego and Xandre Lemours is especially effective, as is her rendition of Your Daddy’s Son and their duet with in Wheels of a Dream.

Paul Melsness gives his Tateh warmth and a touch of humour and Vivian Melsness as Mother adds heart to the necessary formality of the role.

Most of all, it is the quality of the orchestra and the patterns created by the ensemble that leave a lasting impression that transcends the sad aspects of the storyline.

The Orpheus production of Ragtime continues at Centrepointe Theatre to June 11.

Ragtime: The Musical

Book by Terrence McNally

Music by Stephen Flaherty

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens

Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow

Orpheus Musical Theatre Society

Directed by Bob Lackey

Musical director: Terry Duncan

Choreographer: Lisa Wagner

Set: Tony Walker

Lighting: Rob Puchyr

Sound: John Cybanski

Costumes: Susan Cole, Pauline Doggett

 

Cast:

Coalhouse Walker Jr……………………………………….Axandre Lemours

Sarah……………………………………………………….Tzeitel Abrego

Mother..…………………………………………………….Vivian Melsnessr

Father……………………………………………………….Dennis Van Staalduinen

Younger Brother……………………………………………Darren Bird

Grandfather…………………………………………………John Litster

Little boy……………………………………………………Colin Samojlenko

Tateh………………………………………………………..Paul Melsness

Little girl…………………………………………………….Michelle Sangalli

Emma Goldman…………………………………………….Susanna Doherty

Evelyn Nesbit……………………………………………….Erika Séguin

Sarah’s Friend……………………………………………….Carmella Gehrels

Booker T. Washington………………………………………Antoine Collins

Houdini……………………………………………………..Adam Moscoe

J.P. Morgan…………………………………………………Rick Burk

Ensemble: Shervon Amin, Damien Broomes, Tanya Chang, Trish Cleyn, Sharon Dickson, Rachel Duchesneau, Kelly Fuoco, Tate Holm, Marcus Jones, Jerusha lewis, Adam Linton, Sydney Maloney, Brian Murna, Rob Pretty, Rebecca Russell, Sheril Shaw, Doug Thicke, Nina Vuleta, Faduma Warsame

 

Orchestra:

Conductor………………………………………………….Terry Duncan

Violins……………………………………………………..Sophia Pan, Alla Perevalova

Viola……………………………………………………….Sarah Ross

Cello………………………………………………………..Steve Smith

Bass………………………………………………………..Tom McMahon

Reeds………………………………………………Mike Tremblay, Angela Casagrande, Dave Renaud

Horns……………………………………………………….Keith Estabrooks, Guy Edrington

Trumpets……………………………………………………Nick Dyson, Evan Dalling

Trombone…………………………………………………..Drummond Hudson

Tuba………………………………………………………..Chris Thiessen

Keyboards……………………………………Cheryl Jarvis Woods, Wendy Berkelaar, Mark Ferguson

Banjo……………………………………………………….Craig Kennedy

Drums………………………………………………………Pierre Huneault

Percussion…………………………………………………..Scott Latham