The Justice Theatre Project closes out its 2012-2013 season with a musical based on E. L. Doctorow’s novel Ragtime. The stage production of the same name has a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.
Ragtime is a complex and daunting proposition for any company, either amateur or professional. The fact that JTP manages it, and does so with such excellence, is a tribute to Triangle talent in general and to JTP Artistic Director Deb Royals in particular. Royals stages a full musical on a tight set, with multiple levels, and superb use of space.
Ragtime follows three stories simultaneously. The first and most basic of the three follows the Family. This could be any well-to-do family at the turn of the twentieth century; the show takes place in 1909. We see Father (John Adams), Mother (Lora Fabio), Little Boy (JJ Malach), and Mother’s Younger Brother (Ian Finley). These characters create the beat of the show, intrinsically weaving themselves through the storyline.
The second, and major, storyline is about a black minstrel musician, Coalhouse Walker (Byron Jennings), and his true love, Sarah (Carly Prentis Jones). The two storylines comingle because Walker and Sarah reunite under the Family’s roof. This storyline traces the course that Walker’s life takes when, after a long and arduous courtship, both Walker’s pride and love are taken from him.
The third storyline reflects Doctorow’s stance on immigration and the trials immigrants undertook on their journey to, and through, America. Tateh (Cody Cockrell) and his Little Girl (Monica Powell) arrive in New York City to become Americans. Tateh’s trials and ultimate success counterpoint the terrible tragedy that is Walker’s story.
JTP recreates this show with grandeur and panache. Without exception, these performances are polished and efficient, dealing with complex musical styles and also a wayward light board, which gave the troupe a bit of trouble opening night. A total of forty characters are portrayed in a compact two-and-a-half hour show. Costumes are exquisite. From the elegant white linen suit of the well-to-do to the homespun clothes of the blacks and immigrants, each was handled with care by costumers Deb Cox and David Serxner.
Royals has assembled some of the Triangle’s best talent for this production, from longstanding and well-known performers to a selection of exceptional child actors. Malach and Powell steal all of their scenes, and they must stand up to talent that is well-heeled and massive. Fabio leads this cast as the matriarch who guides her family through the tumultuous year with grace and caring. Jennings handles a descent into anger that would destroy a man; he shows Walker’s struggle with dignity and purpose. Equal to the standard set by her true love, Walker, Prentis portrays Sarah as good, kind, and unfamiliar with the evil that awaits them. All of these cast members portray rich characters and offer strong, vibrant musical voices.
The Justice Theatre Project had already proven its strength and power to mount a major musical production with last year’s The Secret Garden. This production proves their staying power, with complex musical direction and a strong and savvy cast. Ragtime is a treat to the senses and worthy of your time.
Ragtime continues through Sunday, June 30. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.