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A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!








Rolan Bell as Coalhouse Walker and Claudia Kariuki as Sarah in Ragtime at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre


A contemporary musical based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow

Book by Terrence McNally

Music by Stephen Flaherty

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.

Directed by Timothy Sheader

Designed by Jon Bausor

Choreography by Javier deFrutos


Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre


18 May 2012 - 08 September 2012


Ragtime’s paradoxical view of American life at the turn of the 20th Century juxtaposes the mythology of the American Dream with its inverted utopia. Though, there’s dreaminess to this production which almost seems to align it with memory, though the historical figures it features: Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbitt and more of their era are all out of the sphere of audience memory.

Those many do remember: JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., Nixon, G.W. Bush are heard as a prelude to the performance itself, during which people of varied ethnicities, ages and decades gather onstage, collectively representing the melting pot of America. Jon Bausor’s charred, smoldering landscape behind them is eerily reminiscent of 9/11. A billboard from Obama’s campaign, burned through in the middle, looms at the top of the huge, meticulously detailed rubbish heap and a family - father, mother and little boy start us on an epic journey through time and, the cyclical nature of man, ever wrestling with the good and bad within.

As with Doctorow’s 1975 novel, this musical traces the overlapping lives of three different groups of people in America, represented by individual families –black jazz musician Colehouse Walker, his wife Sarah and their baby son, ‘Mother’ a white upper middle class woman, her adventurer husband, who travels with Admiral Peary, small and grown up sons, and street artist Tateh, a Latvian Jewish immigrant and his daughter, simply dubbed ‘Little Girl’, whom he struggles to feed in their new, promised land.

Both technically and, talent wise, this musical has everything going for it. Its opening scene is stirring, ensemble numbers consistently strong, leading roles all played by outstanding singer/performers, choreography tight, expressive and always enjoyable, and script, lyrics and songs all top notch and very well performed. That leaves individual performances to commend, beginning with first on stage, Rosalie Craig, as Mother, appearing in contemporary clothing, before seemingly, morphing into turn of the century garb for the bulk of the performance, only to return to the here and now with the cast at the end. Craig is as fine an actress as she is a singer and her layered performance adds emotional depth to the show.



Rosalie Craig as Mother in Ragtime at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre



Likewise, Rolan Bell in his role as Coalhouse Walker, the character, who with Mother and John Marquez’s likeable and determined character, Tateh, carries the dramatic weight of the production. Bell’s rich, clear and deep voice teases, as despite the breadth of the singing called for here, it hints at so much more that remains unheard. Marquez’s Tateh stands for the everyman immigrant without whom America wouldn’t be what is has become - a land of multiple nationalities, races and creeds. Get two or more U.S. strangers together and it isn’t long before they’re comparing one another’s original origins.

Ragtime won a Tony for Best Original Score on Broadway in 1998, and with songs like ‘Wheels of a Dream’, performed here as a marvelously harmonic duet by Rolan Bell and sweet and soulful voiced Claudia Kariuki as Sarah, it’s easy to understand why. Sitting under the stars on a warm night listening to such a gorgeous ballad, so beautifully performed is true luxury! But the lush orchestration and emotive singing in this show is bound to keep any musical fan more than pleased. Personally, all the duets kept me happy, as did the singing and dancing of all and sundry, thanks to the extremely attentive choreography of Javier deFrutos, which, in itself furthers the storyline, ever allowing for variances in character that enable each player to dance as his character might. Such dancing is rare in a medium which by and large, seeks uniformity, so it is doubly commendable and welcome here. It’s a certainty that this production will be nominated come award time, so get your tickets now, before they become unobtainable. Costumes are appropriate to each scenario, be it contemporary or period, though performances are so engrossing here, you may not notice much else, apart from the cast’s equally evocative singing and tandem, yet individualistic dancing.

Timothy Sheader’s directing also enables variance, not just of opinion, but also attitude and beliefs, which rather miraculously, shows through the performances, all of which are first rate, from star to bit player, each assuming importance of equal magnitude, in that each seems vital to the overall success of the show. If it sounds as though I’m lavishing praise on this production, it’s rightfully deserved. Go see for yourself, you’re sure to agree. This production of Ragtime is quite possibly, the revival of the year.



John Marquez as Tateh in Ragtime at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre


Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Online Bookings:
Regent’s Park Open Theatre
 Inner Circle Regent's Park London NW1 4NU
The approximate running time for this production is 2 hours 50 minutes including an interval.
Matinee: 2.15pm (Gates 1.15pm)
Evening: 7.45pm (Gates 6.15pm)
For 2012 only, we have created a thrust style stage extending the existing staging over the front rows of the lower tier and adding an extra bank of seats to the right of the auditorium.
If you are travelling to the Open Air Theatre from Baker St, Clarence Bridge is closed for essential maintenance until Friday 13 July 2012.  Access across the lake will be from the York or Hanover Bridges.
£22.50 - £42.50


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