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Ragtime at The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
January 27, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Times
 

“Crime of the Century” featuring Dana Cass, Sarah Gale, Claire O’Brien, Holly McDade, and Rebecca Phillips - Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

“Crime of the Century” featuring Dana Cass, Sarah Gale, Claire O’Brien, Holly McDade, and Rebecca Phillips – Photos by Keith Waters for Kx Photography

Thirty-seven performers make up the tremendous ensemble in this touching story of intersecting lives.  Set in the early part of the 20th century author E. L. Doctorow focused his novel on three distinct elements of American society – – Black America, on the rise as a strong middle class in Northern cities, middle and upper class White America, and Jewish immigrants bent on hard work and assimilation to their new found country.  The Little Theatre of Alexandria has chosen Director Michael Kharfen to express a story where Terrence McNally’s book blends so beautifully with Lynn Ahrens lyrics and Stephen Flaherty’s music.

The characters here are familiar to us all.  There’s capitalist foe and union organizer, Emma Goldman, a reformer from the days when child labor was the norm and harsh working conditions prevailed; Harry Houdini, the Jewish immigrant who became the world’s most famous magician; and Evelyn Nesbitt, the great beauty who carved out her vaudeville career on a velvet swing while paramour to a millionaire.  Iconic Americans Booker T. Washington, the great African-American orator and Presidential advisor, the financier J. P. Morgan and even Henry Ford make cameos in this story too.  In Doctorow’s sweeping saga of the landscape of America, ordinary people become extraordinary people as their lives intersect and they are tested for their capacity to love.

It harkens back to the turn of the 20th Century, a time when ladies of a certain class carried parasols and wore stiff corsets under voluminous dresses.  Ragtime music was sweeping the country and a certain Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Malcolm Lee) a Scott Joplin avatar, was creating a new sound that crossed over into White high society.

Father is off on a polar expedition with Admiral Peary when Mother discovers a Black newborn abandoned in her garden and goes about finding the boy’s mother.  “I never thought they had lives besides our lives,” she confesses while searching for the indigent unwed mother.  When at last she and her son Edgar find Sarah (Aerika Saxe), she offers Sarah the comfort of their home – – allowing her humanity to overtake her Victorian rigidity.

“Harlem Women” featuring Kadira Coley, Tiara Hairston, Corisa Myers, and Jessica Pryde - Photo credit

“Harlem Women” featuring Kadira Coley, Tiara Hairston, Corisa Myers, and Jessica Pryde – Photo credit Keith Waters

Shaun Moe plays the stiff Victorian era “Father” secure in his position and his marriage.  Jennifer Lyons Pagnard is “Mother”, a wife learning to have her own say.

Scenic designer J. Andrew Simmons has created a dramatic Industrial Age backdrop of massive connecting clock gears to express the passage of time, while scene changes are cleverly accomplished by painted panels that unfurl from the rafters to denote a sense of place.  The Lighting Design team of Ken and Patti Crowley sets the tone with a wide array of colors and effects to change the mood and heighten the drama.

Known as one of the most important musicals ever to grace Broadway, this production does the author’s material (twenty-eight brilliant tunes!) justice with a strong and interconnected cast who sing their faces off.  Jennifer Lyons Pagnard demonstrates that she can infuse a leading role with fresh vigor much as she did as Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd for which she won “Best Leading Actress in a Musical” with a WATCH Award last year.  The ensemble’s voices reflect the powerful emotions of this poignant story of hope, redemption, human rights and a call for justice. Of particular note is the exquisite voice of “Sarah’s Friend” played by Corisa Myers who does a brief but deeply affecting solo turn in “When We Reach That Day”.

There is a beautiful flow to the dancing choreographed by Ivan Davila.  Keep an eye peeled for Sherrod Brown who is a standout.

The Little Theatre has taken on one of its most ambitious productions to date with Ragtime and from the “Sold Out” sign on press night, it’s already proven to be a great success.

Through February 15th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

The Ragtime Cast Photos credit Keith Waters

The Ragtime Cast Photos credit Keith Waters

 

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