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Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand – Better than Broadway

Running through October 7, 2012 at Boston's historic Strand Theatre, there is still time to get tickets for the Tony award-winning musical RAGTIME.

"Fabulous, phenomenal, rivaling downtown musicals, more drama in Act I than I would expect in three musicals, better than at the Colonial Theater, not a dry eye in the crowd."

Attendees marvelled at the quality of the Sunday afternoon performance of Ragtime on September 30, 2012.

Ragtime was once described by its author, E.L. Doctorow, as a novel about "America becoming itself." Ragtime, the Musical delivers a score that is direct, piercing in its clarity and ultimately hopeful on the "wings of a dream." Based on the historically accurate struggles of diverse groups comprising "America" at the turn of the twentieth century – the Negroes, the privileged whites and the immigrants, all in mortal conflict – the musical concludes idealistically with the well placed white woman partnering with the immigrant Jew who will raise an orphaned black child, the son of the murdered Negro couple. It is their struggles that comprise the storyline symbolizing the social growth of our nation over the last century.

Act I of Ragtime

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than BroadwayAct I opens with a glittering and picture perfect group of white people in splendiferous garb who are soon flanked by a group of dark-skinned people, more distinctly contrasted by the excellent stage lighting ["There were no Negroes"] and a group of immigrants ["Tell them you have no name, when they ask"] dressed in the plain, dark clothes of the working and despicable poor.

While the storyline moves quickly and almost simplistically through unlikely circumstances, the well developed character relationships allow us to listen openly to the social problems that form the foundation of the musical and that continue to plague this country well into a century beyond the setting of the musical.

Mother and her Family say goodbye to Father as he embarks on a journey to the North Pole. They belong to an upper class family in the rich white neighborhood of New Rochelle, NY. Tateh, representing Eastern European Immigrant families, comes to America with his daughter hoping for a chance at their dream of riches. Coalhouse Walker, a hopeful embodiment of a rising non-white class, is an accomplished pianist and fills the club with the joys of "ragtime" music and attracts Sarah into his life.

Later, Mother finds a newborn black child buried in her garden and asks: "Why would a woman do this?" but immediately turns that to the real question bothering her: "Why would my husband do this to me?" The police arrive with the child’s mother, Sarah, and Mother, instead of castigating the woman, decides to take full responsibility for both.

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than Broadway

Coalhouse secures a Model T and finds Sarah and the baby and ingratiates himself with Mother and the family. Returning home, Coalhouse and Sarah are stopped by a group of thugs who destroy his car. Coalhouse seeks justice and finds none. Sarah, seeking justice on Coalhouse’s behalf, is mistaken for an assassin at a presidential rally and beaten to death.

Meanwhile Tateh and his daughter are struggling to survive – his only source of income from the silhouettes he cuts and sells. He is part of a teaming throng of mistreated and underpaid immigrants who are pushed into riot.

Sarah's Funeral

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than BroadwaySarah’s Friend sings the Act I closing song at Sarah’s funeral and cries out in hope for a day of justice – "What is wrong with this country?"

There's a day of hope, May I live to see,
When our hearts are happy, and our souls are free.
Let the new day dawn, Oh, Lord, I pray.
We'll never get to heaven, Till we reach that day.

It's a day of peace. A day of pride.
A day of justice We have been denied.
Where a man can live, And a child can play.
We'll never get to heaven Till we reach that day.

Why does nobody care?
There is blood in the air!
We have voices and souls!
What is wrong with this country?
There are Negroes out there!
There are people out there!

Give the people a day of peace. A day of pride.
A day of justice We have been denied.
Let the new day dawn, Oh, Lord, I pray...
We'll never get to heaven Till we reach that day.

Act II of Ragtime

In Act II the three sets of lives become even more deeply entwined. Coalhouse resorts to violence and despite intervention by Booker T Washington is murdered while Father dies in a ship accident. Tateh and Mother meet in Atlantic City and fall in love. The musical closes with Mother and Tateh remarking at how well her son and Tateh’s daughter play together while they all, along with Sarah’s child, will clearly "live happily ever after."

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than Broadway

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than Broadway

Civil Rights at the Heart of the Production

The vital notions of civil rights and what it means to be an American lie at the very heart of the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s new production taking place in the recently refurbished Strand Theatre. The Strand is itself a testament to Ragtime. Built in 1918, it is in the process of being returned to its former splendor. Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino applauds the new production of Ragtime, stating that, "We invested in the Strand because we recognize that it is an irreplaceable part of Dorchester’s community and culture. I am delighted that Fiddlehead’s production of Ragtime will open our 2012–13 season."

The ACLU has worked for nearly a century to defend the rights and freedoms that remain central to Ragtime.

According to Carol Rose, Executive Director of the Boston ACLU, "the ACLU of Massachusetts has for more than 90 years been at the forefront of America's struggle to realize equal justice for all." Interestingly, Roger Baldwin, who founded the ACLU, was from Massachusetts. And just months after the Strand Theatre opened, a group of concerned citizens met in the Beacon Hill living room of Mrs. Margaret Shurcliff, a supporter of women's suffrage and peace, to form the nation's first ACLU affiliate.

Boston - the Perfect Setting for Ragtime

Since Boston has always been center stage for American history, it is inspiring that the historic Strand Theatre will host the opening of Fiddlehead Theatre's production of Ragtime. The musical is set in the early 1900s--the same era as Strand Theatre's opening--and celebrates in word and song America's struggle for equal rights for women, blacks, immigrants, and workers.

Bostonians can take pride in celebrating the historic role that Boston has played--and will continue to play--in realizing the American dream of equality, liberty and justice for all. Fiddlehead’s partnership with the American Civil Liberties Union imbues this engagement with particular gravity, as "Fiddlehead’s goal has always been to promote awareness about civil liberties and the struggles for personal freedom that the ACLU fights so hard to protect. From immigration and women’s rights to racial discrimination and union issues, their work touches everyone," remarks Fiddlehead’s Director, Meg Fofonoff, who spearheaded the arrangement.

Ragtime - a Progressive Social Force

Lynn Ahrens, the lyricist for Ragtime as well as for a multitude of television shows and feature films, recalls the euphoria she felt while drafting the musical. "We were adapting a gorgeous novel and writing about a period of American history that was very fascinating, beautiful and tumultuous," remarked Ahrens. "I hope [the musical] does influence people, change people’s minds and gets them to consider the many ills of this country."

The scope of this production is impressive: a 42-person cast and a 16-piece orchestra. Fofonoff is said to have scoured the Northeast for the ideal cast with auditions in both New York City and Boston. Her goal? Turning her toe-tapping production into a progressive social force. "I think so often we do art for art’s sake," muses Fofonoff, "and it is not too often that we are given the opportunity to help effect change."

Ragtime, the Musical at the Strand - Better than Broadway

Reviews by Strand Theatre Patrons on Sep 30, 2012

Jennifer Browen from Corpus Christi She described Ragtime at the Strand as "absolutely amazing. I have never seen anything better. The staging was remarkable. Very few productions are capable of affecting me emotionally as much as this one did."
Pat Mustacaros from Plympton Pat has followed the Fiddlehead Theatre since it was in Norwood and came to the Strand to see this production. "It was fabulous."
Joanne Tuller from Uphams Corner "The amount of emotion in just the first half was enough for three plays. It was extraordinary."
Christian from Malden "They did a good job across the board." He was especially impressed by the three fathers in the production: white, black and immigrant. "Tateh was especially well done with a perfect balance of both acting and singing."

How did he hear about the production? "Everyone’s talking about it."
Linda Marshall BIbby from Roxbury "What was phenomenal is that theater that is usually downtown is here in Dorchester. It was wonderful theater. It rivaled the downtown musicals. The choreography was good, the songs were good, the singing was good, the acting was great."
Yvonne Horne, Fenway/Back Bay She hasn’t been to the Strand for a long time and was particularly impressed with how good it looks. "The remodeling they did - they did a fabulous job. Be sure to tell the Mayor." Is the Strand theater in good enough shape to attract people from outside the local area? "Oh, definitely"

She added: "I loved the period clothing especially the shoes. And the main characters sang so beautifully. I liked the nice range of the voices. The duets were fabulous. The young boy, Mother’s son, his acting was wonderful. And the little baby coming out at the end (Sarah’s child) just made the evening perfect."

From a long-time Bostonian and resident of Uphams Corner, this author encourages you to consider attending Ragtime.
  • Experience for yourself the song and dance of the Fiddlehead Theatre’s production.
  • Witness its moving tributes to the struggles of the past.
  • Commit to supporting the efforts of the ACLU.
  • Support the City of Boston in revitalizing the Strand Theatre.


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Posted: October 1, 2012   Nancy J Conrad

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