“Ragtime” Cuts A Wide Swath Across American Ideals On The Stray Dog Stage

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The cast of “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

In one of the most powerful events ever to hit a local stage, Stray Dog Theatre has tackled and overwhelmed with a magnificent production of “Ragtime,” the rarely performed Terrence McNally, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens sweeping adaptation of the E. L. Doctorow novel. Strong singing and acting performances highlight this massive undertaking that hits every note and every tug of the heartstrings with unabashed brilliance.

“Ragtime,” the novel, is one of the most powerful novels ever written as Doctorow weaved real characters with fictitious ones to create a look at how the turn of the century made the early 1900’s not so different than what we’re experiencing now. It made quite an impression when I first read it and I have revisited it several times since. Using ragtime music from Coalhouse Walker, Jr. to center on the treatment of black people, the musical uses him as a focus but the struggle of immigrants and the white privilege that often condemned both brings us full circle to the 21st century.

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A scene from Stray Dog Theatre’s “Ragtime.” Photo: John Lamb

Omega Jones is a powerhouse as Coalhouse. His strong, steady singing voice and his portrayal of the rage that eventually catapults out of him are astounding. What a wonderful performance. As his lady, Sarah “brown eyes,” newcomer Evan Addams displays remarkable talent as well. An alumnae of the Artists-in-Training program at Opera Theatre St. Louis, she’s got a great future in both opera and musical theatre.

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Kay Martin Love as Mother and Evan Addams as Sarah in “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

The heart of the show is Mother- she knows what is right and refuses to bow down to the pettiness of others, including her husband, in their treatment of others. Kay Martin Love, who is a veteran of both the musical and cabaret in town, is simply a knockout in the role. Her “Back To Before” number brings the house down. Phil Leveling does a superb job as well as Father. A member of our Theater Circle, Chuck Lavazzi, also does great work in several roles but rooted in his portrayal of the cantankerous grandfather.

Another one of our dearly beloved local actor/singers, Jeffrey M. Wright, takes the reins as  the immigrant, Tateh. With his rich baritone and consummate acting skills, he brings the soul of the “your tired, your poor” community to the forefront. His character is based on one of the real life people in Doctorow’s book- Hal Roach. If you’re not familiar with him, be sure to see how his character develops in this production. Angela Bubash also portrays a real person- the girl in the red velvet swing- Evelyn Nesbit. Her performance is delightful as she squeals with delight every time she makes an appearance. It’s all part of the “performance art” act she developed after her infamous marriage and involvement of a shooting between her husband and her lover.

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Cast of Stray Dog Theatre’s “Ragtime.” Photo: John Lamb

Laura Kyro returns to the Stray Dog stage in the role of activist Emma Goldman. She is a moving force as this no-nonsense fighter for justice. Jon Bee delivers as Mother’s younger brother as he becomes a force to reckon with as well as he follows Goldman’s advice and becomes active in the fight for the rights of Coalhouse. The supporting cast makes up the largest cast ever assembled on the Stray Dog stage- 26 singers, actors and dancers. Even in the small Tower Grove Abbey, they move around utilizing the aisles, stairs and the massive David Blake set to make the show feel as big as it is.

Director Justin Been does a remarkable job of making this show move as smoothly as it does. He also squeezes every ounce of energy and movement out of the cast as possible- quite an achievement. Mike Hodges also deserves kudos as choreographer- managing to move people effectively on the small stage. Eileen Engel’s costumes are powerfully appropriate and the Tyler Duenow lights enhance the production.

Another wonderful accomplishment is by musical director Jennifer Buchheit. With such a large cast and chorus, the ensemble manages to capture the sometimes complicated score with nuance and power. Each scene is right on the mark and the harmonies are unbelievable. This is a big undertaking for Stray Dog and they come out shining in every aspect. It’s a show not to be missed and it’s probably going to be one of the few times you get to enjoy this wonderful show with an absolutely beautiful score.

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Jon Bee as the younger brother takes charge in “Ragtime” at Stray Dog Theatre. Photo: John Lamb

A lot of performances are selling out, so give Stray Dog Theatre a call at 314-865-1995 for tickets and more information. “Ragtime” plays through August 19th.

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