All reviews are written by Cappies student critics and edited by Cappies adult mentors prior to publishing.
Edward Degas said that “art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” If this holds true, then Thomas S. Wootton High School’s production of Ragtime: The Musical was undoubtedly a work of art.
The musical - written by Terrence McNally, based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow - premiered on Broadway in 1998 and was revived in 2009 with a production that opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. The show deals with complicated issues of racial and class tensions at the turn of the century, following the intertwined paths of a wealthy Protestant family; a Harlem piano-player named Coalhouse Walker (Elgin Martin), and a Jewish immigrant named Tateh (Landon Fleischman) who has just arrived in America with his daughter (Alyssa Herman). An emotional journey through the turmoil of the early 1900s Gilded Age, Ragtime tells of love, prejudice, hope, and injustice in a time when American society was being turned upside down.
Wootton’s three ensembles - the New Rochelle Ensemble, the Harlem Ensemble, and the Immigrant Ensemble - were the driving forces of the show. In such large numbers as the opening song “Ragtime” or the emotional “Till We Reach That Day,” the groups’ powerful harmonies filled the entire theater and set the tone of the show.
Propelled by such forceful ensembles, the leads of the show brought intensity and emotional depth that drove the stories and message of the show home. Elgin Martin as Coalhouse was incredibly compelling in his transformation from loving suitor to vengeful seeker of justice, and his ability to handle vocal intricacies proved him to be a capable leading man. Landon Fleischman as Tateh was utterly convincing in playing a man at least twice his age, and his vocal consistency contributed greatly to the show.
Among the supporting roles, Olivia Speck and Alyssa Herman, both elementary school students, showed great acting and singing ability in their roles as Little Boy and Little Girl. Corrieanne Stein as Emma Goldman and Michael Neild as Younger Brother both adeptly controlled a vast range of emotions with spot-on vocals, and Kayli Modell shone as the flouncy Evelyn Nesbit, despite limited stage time.
Wootton’s aesthetics beautifully added to the tone of the show, with elegant period costumes and props, including a real Model T Ford. The set design was a subtle nod to the industrialism that drove the era, with large cogs used as part of the backdrop.
While some technical mishaps such as microphone issues and missed light cues occasionally detracted, the strength and power of the cast was captivating enough to keep the audience’s entire focus. Wootton’s level of commitment to such serious material was clear, with attention paid to every detail, from harmonies to costumes to stage crew conscientiousness. Ultimately, the show was an artful adaptation of an ambitious production, and Wootton’s players exceeded in their ability not just to perform, but to leave the audience moved and thinking.