Clutching the baby she has recently tried to bury alive, young black girl Sarah sings ‘Your Daddy’s Son’. Her face is etched with pain and her voice with sorrow and confusion. It’s one of many electrifying moments in Robert McWhir’s skilful and hugely evocative re-staging of ‘Ragtime’, first performed on Broadway in 1998.
Based on the novel by EL Doctorow, this musical is well suited to the intimate space of the Landor Theatre. Showing us the birth pangs of early-twentieth-century modern America through the eyes of a well-heeled white family, a Harlem pianist (Sarah’s lover) and a Latvian Jewish immigrant, it weaves its strands together without confusing them. We never lose sight of the moving personal stories amid the singing and tightly choreographed dancing.
Designer Martin Thomas’s simple yet striking use of background silhouettes allows the impressive ensemble cast to shine during foot-tapping set-pieces such as ‘Ragtime’ and ‘What a Game!’, a deeply funny ode to baseball and social hypocrisy. But these stark outlines of cityscapes and Henry Ford cars also evoke the aching difference between hope and reality in the most poignant scenes.
Confidently directed, orchestrated and performed, this production moves with the syncopated energy of ragtime and the urgent beat of a real heart.
First published by Time Out.