Broadway Baby review of Ragtime

Excellent Musical About Racism And Civil Rights

Ragtime is a musical set in the USA in the early years of the 20th Century, when racism was more blatant than it is today and civil rights movements were barely under way. Initially we are introduced to a suburban New York family that lives in a totally white area. The family’s lives get turned upside down when an abandoned black child is found on their property. The police find a woman, Sarah, nearby and she is confirmed to be the child’s mother. Both Sarah and her child are allowed to stay with the family temporarily.

Sarah’s former boyfriend and the baby’s father, piano player Coalhouse Walker, comes to find Sarah and eventually tracks her down. She refuses to see him but he says he will come back once a week until she agrees to marry him. As he returns again and again he becomes friendly with the family, playing their piano for them. Eventually Sarah agrees to marry him.

He and Sarah go out in his new car but some racist firemen harass him. They damage his car and Coalhouse tries, without success, to force the authorities to get them to fix it. Sarah tries to speak to the President about it but is killed by the police, who think she has a weapon. Coalhouse then gives up on peaceful means and turns to violence, shooting to death three firemen. Eventually, he is persuaded to surrender to the police and promised a fair trial but is shot in cold blood.

Coalhouse is shown as an intriguing and complicated character, not as a flawless saint. His position is contrasted with that of Booker T. Washington, a black leader of the time, who advocated slow progress without violence so as not to frighten the whites. Whose approach was correct?

This is a tremendously ambitious undertaking for the Forth Children’s Theatre and is a great success. The stage is set in the middle of the hall with the audience on both sides, which must have made the choreography extremely difficult, particularly with such a large cast, but it works perfectly. The singing is, in most cases, top quality even from the youngest performers. An excellent production.

5 STARS

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