ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It’s hard to imagine a more “American” musical than “Ragtime,” the 1998 Broadway hit adapted from the novel by E.L. Doctorow that tells the stories of African-Americans, Jewish immigrants and upper middle class white Protestants in New York City in the first decade of the 20th century.
This ambitious musical requires a cast of more than 40 actors with about 100 costumes and a large orchestra. In the hands of director Art Tedesco everything flows smoothly in the current Landmark Musicals production: rather like Henry Ford’s assembly line, which we see in the show.
The talented playwright Terrence McNally adapted Doctorow’s novel, which centers on Coalhouse Walker Jr., a black pianist whose life is destroyed by racists. Unwilling to turn the other cheek, Walker becomes a revolutionary terrorist.
“Ragtime” is peopled with both imagined characters and historical figures, such as the anarchist Emma Goldman, chorus girl celebrity Evelyn Nesbit, Henry Ford, and many more, including Booker T. Washington, the iconic black leader who represents the conciliatory approach to race relations, in contrast to Walker.
Coalhouse is a regular visitor at a home in New Rochelle, an affluent New York suburb. Mother is caring for his girlfriend Sarah and their young child until Walker can leave his life on the road and settle down.
A fourth principal character is Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia, trying to raise his daughter with only his wits, artistic talent and dedication. Tateh’s path will cross with the other principals, making “Ragtime” a vivid representation of the American melting pot.
Tedesco has assembled some outstanding performers to bring this engaging story to life, both musically and dramatically. Tychiko Cox, a charismatic actor with a gorgeous, operatic singing voice, is extraordinary as Coalhouse. Sina Soul is also possessed of a beautiful voice, and endows Sarah with grace and dignity; her rendition of “Daddy’s Son” is one of the highlights of the show. Amy Poland is outstanding as Mother, impressing on the character a deep and abiding humanity; she is also a first-rate vocalist.
“Ragtime” is a story of transformations, with virtually all the main characters metamorphosing like butterflies before the show ends. Tateh transforms from Tateh the Latvian immigrant to Baron Ashkenazi, budding Hollywood film director, and finds a mother for his daughter in the process. Bill Williams is quite good in the part.
“Ragtime” is playing through March 25 at the Rodey Theatre on the UNM campus. Call 453-8844 or go to landmarkmusicals.org to make a reservation.