Ragtime is the greatest musical ever written.
Of that there is no question.
But how well it is performed is another question.
My fondness for the original cast recording on Broadway is muted. My own youth theatre’s performance in the 2009 Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a lifetime high. The Regents Park open air show was good, but odd.
Take four then.
Thom Southerland’s, off West End, production at The Charing Cross Theatre.
First off. This is a brilliant theatre. Great box office and bar staff. Nice loos. Reasonably priced drinks (and tickets). All good.
Now for the bad news.
I travelled to London at short notice and paid £120 for my train ticket, such was my enthusiasm to see its penultimate performance, but having arrived at the theatre the show was delayed by 30 minutes because Nolan Frederick (Booker T. Washington) has been taken ill. Rather than cancelling the show the cast, crew and production team had rapidly pulled together a compromise. A semi staged concert performance.
That did not bode well.
But, and it’s a huge but, what followed was a performance that I feel sure had more, not less, gusto than its normal 5 star delivery as each actor sought to make the most of an unfortunate situation.
What transpired was a masterpiece.
The performances were, universally, outrageously brilliant and the stand in for Nolan Frederick, an ensemble tuba playing cast member, Lemuel Knights, was spot on from start to finish.
This is a great production.
A really great production.
With cast doubling up as orchestra playing everything from to Cello to Recorder (and that’s just Joanna Hickman as Evelyn Nesbitt). Accordion, Tuba, Banjo, Guitar, Drums, Piano (of course), Flute, Piccolo all feature prominantly.
The political nous of the piece can never have been higher as Britain wallows in something approaching mass hysteria about immigration. The rise of the immigrant Tateh (amazingly performed by Gary Tushaw) is like a two fingered salute to the evil that is Nigel Farage.
And the dignity and stoicism of Ako Mitchell’s Coalhouse (and metaphorically his and Sarah’s baby) sets the scene for the contribution of the ‘negroes’ that have risen to the ultimate prominence as Barack Obama vacates the White House for an ungracious white supremacist.
I cannot praise this highly enough. E.L. Doctorow’s source novel is a classic, and McNally, Flaherty and Ahren’s take on it cannot actually be performed any better than this.
A special mention to Samuel Peterson and Riya Vyas (adorable) as the little boy and girl.
A very, very special moment in my life that I will never forget.