Friday, May 18, 2007

RAGTIME: Then & Now

Sometime in 1999, I went to an industry performance of the musical RAGTIME at Oriental Theatre, which had just recently been beautifully restored and renamed The Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

I remember sitting next to my friend Charissa Armon. I especially remember the tears falling down her face as she listened to the actress playing Mother sing BACK TO BEFORE. Charissa had been swept away by this epic musical.

I was bored.

Charissa couldn't believe I didn't enjoy it. I've talked with so many people about it - - people who love RAGTIME - - and I still don't "get it." I think I don't enjoy it because there are so many stories with such huge arcs and with only 2 hours to go from beginning to end with everyone, the show just skims each character's journey. I don't feel like I get to know any character deeply.

That, added to the fact that the second act song list goes something like: ballad, anthem, ballad, ballad, sweeping anthem, reprise of first ballad, new ballad, reprise of sweeping anthem, etc., makes me "turn off" rather than "tune in."

My friend Aaron thinks my dislike of RAGTIME is much, much simpler. As he has told me...

"You don't like anything with more than 5 characters.
Too many people and you can't follow the plot."

Since I love THE LAST FIVE YEARS (cast size: 2) and never have enjoyed LES MISERABLES (cast size: All of France), I think he's on to something.

But last night, I had a real treat. I went to another industry performance of RAGTIME, this time produced by my pals at Porchlight Music Theatre. Actually, there were many treats at this performance. For instance...

- Walter Stearns kept me "tuned in" to the story from start to finish through his wonderful direction

- Eugene Dizon's musical direction blew me to the back of the theatre with the breathtaking sound coming from his band and the amazing cast

- Aaron Graham soared as Tateh, Karla Beard's finely-tuned and poignant portrayal of Sarah was mesmerizing, Sarah Hayes as Emma Goldman was an inspiration and Jayson Brooks gorgeous voice made you want to take him home so he could sing to you all day and night.

But the ultimate treat was Charissa as Mother.

After sitting beside her eight or so years ago as she fell in love with RAGTIME, it was a thrill to sit in the theatre and watch Charissa take the character further than what is written on the page. Her performance was so nuanced, so vivid, so passionate. It was a joy to watch this friend of mine who is truly at the top of her game. A joy.

And when Charissa sang BACK TO BEFORE, no one moved, no one breathed and I began to understand the emotional power and depth of this piece of musical theatre.

Thank you, Charissa, and congratulations to everyone involved with Porchlight and RAGTIME on an wonderful production.

Side Note: They announced it at last night's performance and it hit the press today.

Porchlight's production of RAGTIME is extending and is moving into the Apollo Theatre.

Bravo, guys!


Master Aaron said...

Did I really say that about you not being able to follow the plot? If I did, I'm sure I said it in my trademark tone, that sweet lilt that drops, all of a sudden, into the chest voice, heralding the arrival of yet another well-meaning quip. Now, I know they say that, in every jest, there is a modicum of truth; but just who the fuck are "they," anyway? (Did you hear the lilt, dropping sharply into the abyss? OH, it was there!) I had the pleasure of enjoying Ragtime along with L'Rader, and I do think it is some of Porchlight's best work, especially for Mr. Sterns. It is my hope that he will finally get some of the community recognition that has been missing in past years. (Read here, a fucking award, for Rosie's sake!) And there were, as Stephen has said, many wonderful performances to marvel over. But my buddy Charissa blew me away! I feel like I've watched her grow up right before my eyes in the last several years, and the realization of this particular character, the layers she paints on this portrait, sets her apart from so many of her peers. Surely she will now be recognized as one of the young leading ladies of the musical theatre in this toddlin' town, and be gifted with more opportunities to enlighten us all. The upshot, go see the show, either this weekend at The Theatre Building, or later at The Apollo.

Stephen Rader said...

Master Aaron - I believe you did say that line about me following the plot. But as I have discovered over the years, when you say that I "am" something, then that is what I am - - from top to bottom... if you will.

And it is now official: You and I are the presidents of the Charissa Armon Fan Club!

I mean, do you even remember who originally played Mother in RAGTIME on Broadway? First and last name was M, right? M... M... Mandy Moore? Marlee Matlin?