Good musicals make you forget your troubles. They make you laugh and think about worlds where mystical creatures exist and people make non-stop clever jokes. I love good musicals and think they are incredibly important to our society’s wellbeing. For the same reason that I watched Gossip Girl, I love Mamma Mia for its mindless drama and fun.
Great musicals, however, can make you angry. They can remind you of problems, not just the ones you suffer, but the millions of others that plague people you will never know. They make you empathize with these unknown people; they force you to understand horrors of the world; they reveal incredibly beautiful things about the human experience. I have never been an unwed mother who attempted to bury her newborn son alive, I have never been an upperclass white man who gave up his privilege to fight alongside black men, and (unless the theory of reincarnation is correct) I never will be. But it is great musicals like Ragtime that allow me to understand these characters so deeply, and with that, understand the historical context, and relate it to the issues I see today. I walked out of the theater tonight heartbroken, but knowing that it was my duty as a human on earth to feel this way. At the same time, I walk out with the knowledge that the theater was packed, the audience gave standing ovations, and the reminder that people care. The creative minds behind Ragtime cared, and many who have seen it since and many more who will see it will be inspired to go out and advocate for what is right.
Ragtime’s portrayal of the cruel treatment of immigrants, racism, classism, sexism, and a corrupt justice system are all too familiar today, making it one of the most important musicals of this time. At the same time, Ragtime is not all sadness. Moments of beauty, such as “Our Children,” the touching duet of Mother and Tateh, are a reminder of hope. All of the actors give spectacular performances, with flawless vocals (despite some technical sound issues that disrupted the performance). Other standout numbers include “Success,” led by Matthew Curiano as Tateh; the vulnerable yet strong solos “Your Daddy’s Son” and “Back to Before,” sung by Leslie Jackson and Kate Turner, respectively; and “He Wanted to Say,” a powerful performance for an equally powerful song, performed by Donald Coggin and Sandy Zwier.
Direction and choreography, but Marcia Milgrom Dodge, are naturalistic and do not overwhelm the impact of the book, by Terrence McNally (based off the novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow), or the music or lyrics, by Flaherty and Ahrens. Costume, scenic, and lighting design, by Gail Baldoni, Kevin Depinet, and Mike Baldassari, respectively, help set the complex tones of the show, again being minimalistic enough to not overpower the story. Costume and staging become immediately noticeable at the beginning of the show as the separate classes and races begin very segregated, and by the end of the show, the divide is much less prominent, suggesting a more unified world.
I highly suggest everyone go see Ragtime, which plays until June 5 at the Music Hall at Fair Park, as presented by Dallas Summer Musicals. I will likely go several more times, so even if I’m sobbing during intermission or after the show or whenever you see me, please come talk to me, and maybe together we can also inspire change.