by Jenni Morin
In the early 20th century, America appeared a land of opportunity, a promise for a better life. Ragtime unearths the realities of a harsh turn of the century America by comparing the experiences of three families—white upper-class suburbanites, African-Americans hailing from Harlem and Eastern European immigrants. It is, indeed, a diorama of famous figures from that era of American history, each touching the families’ lives.
The Playhouse’s current production of Ragtime, showing at The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre through August 18, is a great illustration of how these families’ lives intertwine. The show boasts what must be some of San Antonio’s best vocalists and musicians. At the helm, Music Director Darrin Newhardt expertly allows the musical’s namesake to lead the show. This “strange insistent music” has an infectious beat with a building momentum.
Director Molly Cox admirably capitalizes on this momentum, heightening suspense coupled with empathy for each of the characters. Their plights are real and propelled by their interactions with historical figures who relay important messages to today’s audiences: change is inevitable, stories are better teachers than violence and the American dream is defined by the individual.
This rendition of Ragtime should not be missed. Its unrelenting themes become more profound with the talents of the cast. The stage prowess of some actors and vocalists shines above the rest, namely, Sarah L. Hedrick as Mother, David Nanny-Isban as Tateh, Trevor Chauvin as Younger Brother, Rebecca Trinidad as Emma Goldman, and as a People of Harlem chorus member, Danielle King nearly steals the show. The choreography is effective and just as laudable as the other aspects of the show, such as the simple scenery. For additional historical perspective, the production also incorporates multimedia in the form of archival photographs, which lends authenticity along with accurate costuming.
Unfortunately, the issues in Ragtime are timely. Following the Trayvon Martin shooting, Ragtime questions how far this nation has come since the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Over a century later, the U.S. still struggles with immigration policies. The call for justice and equality rings clear in Ragtime and all the while, its characters search for the promise of a future in the land of opportunity. Perhaps Grandfather is still right to say, “The world needs a kick in the pants.”
Ragtime plays through August 18 at The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre while the Russell Hill Rogers Theater at The Playhouse undergoes repairs. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. The Playhouse will host a talk back with the director and cast immediately following the show on Sunday, July 28. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.theplayhousesa.org.