Oh Why oh Why Is Ragtime Closing?

January 6, 2010

is an epic, irony-infused, emotionally wringing experience. I can’t believe it’s closing because it’s one of the glorious things on Broadway. I left feeling fully satisfied, energized, educated, and weepy.


Based on E. L. Doctorow’s historical novel of the same name, it weaves together three populations at the turn of the century: upper class whites, blacks, and immigrants. It makes us feel sympathetic with characters of all the groups. The sweeping unity comes from two things. First, the ragtime music that the musi is based on. And second, the fact that it’s directed and choreographed by one person: Marcia Milgrom Dodge. I know nothing about her except for what I saw last night. She can bring in dance in a simple, believable way—and she doesn’t rush the dancing to squeeze the plot in. Everything takes its time, whether it’s elegant people looking out over Atlantic City moving in slow motion, or a bunch of raunchy guys spitting and shaking their shoulders in glee at a baseball game.


The stage set (by Derek McLane) is a multi-level wonder, a single structure that could be a train station or a tenement building. There is no main dancer role, but the choreography fits the period and the story so well that you don’t notice when there is “choreography.” The staging, on all those levels, allows you to take in the different groups of people and their relationships at a glance.


The emotional tension and release made me gasp a couple times, as when the main lovers get back together, and then again, after a hate crime. It’s wrenching not only because of the personal tragedy but the political and social tragedy. Racism permeated American life at that time (not to imply it doesn’t still exist), and it’s amazing to see that horrible situation made into art.


And again (see my previous blog on this topic) I have to say, Hurrah for Broadway for addressing race issues and not shying away from hard realities.



Pictured: The cast of
Ragtime. Photo by Joan Marcus, courtesy Ragtime