Classic musical Ragtime comes to life in a musical with full orchestra

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Ragtime: A Concert Performance at the Jack Singer Concert Hall is a triumph for everyone involved.

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This world premiere of a new concert version of the musical premiered in Toronto in 1996 is a co-production of Arts Commons, the Calgary Philharmonic and Theater Calgary and the excitement and passion of all the performers was palpable Friday night and quickly inspired a similar response. in capacity hearing.

With a book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by EL Doctorow and music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, it tells the intersecting stories of an upper-class white family, a Harlem musician and of a Jewish immigrant at the turn of the 20th century.

It’s a powerful and deeply moving story told through a host of intriguing characters, some fictional and some historical.

As important as the intersecting storylines may be, the music becomes the focal point of a concert version. No staged version of Ragtime could boast the 60-piece orchestra of the Jack Singer Concert Hall under the direction of James Moore. Each song is given such a glorious and soulful treatment, but it never overpowers the singers and it’s a most remarkable achievement. Moore also persuaded unforgettable performances from his singers so that each song was greeted with prolonged cheers and enthusiastic applause.

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The opening number, Ragtime sung by the 28-member ensemble, is a knockout because it features the main characters and the ragtime theme in Flaherty’s score.

The cast and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in Ragtime: A Concert Performance.  Photo by Will Young.
The cast and the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra in Ragtime: A Concert Performance. Photo by Will Young. Photo by Will Young /Do young people

Theater Calgary Artistic Director Stafford Arima has staged this Ragtime so that it unfolds with fluid ease, with actors weaving through the orchestra as they come to sing on the front of the scene. This prevents the performance from becoming static and there are very effective moments where the action is choreographed.

Beth Kates’ choice of projection stills establishes the changing locations of the story while Scott Reid’s lighting design helps highlight the performers and Michelle Latta’s simple costumes evoke the era.

Initially, Mother, the matriarch of New Rochelle’s wealthy white family, is shy and reserved, but as her world changes, she finds new strength and determination. Jessica Eckstadt shows this so clearly in the progression of Mother’s sweet debut song, Goodbye My Love, as her husband sets sail with Admiral Peary’s arctic expedition to the great resolve she brings to her last song, We Can’t go Back to Before.

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So does Tim Howar as Tateh, the downcast and frightened Jewish immigrant who becomes a famous silent film director. There is such wonderful exuberance in his song Buffalo Nickel Photoplay Inc.

As Coalhouse Walker, the Harlem musician whose happiness is snatched from him, Tenaj Williams carries much of the dramatic weight of the story and the music and he’s gorgeous and confident as he rides the roller coaster. emotional.

As Sarah, Coalhouse’s wife, Misha Maseka has the beautiful ballad Your Daddy’s Son and the moving duet Sarah Brown Eyes with Williams.

Elizabeth Stephkowski Tarhan has a lot of fun playing seasoned revolutionary Emma Goldman, and David Webb makes a handsome budding revolutionary as the mother’s younger brother.

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As giddy vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit, Katie McMillan brings humor and pizzazz to the crime of the century, and Eric Wigston quickly makes his mark as Houdini, the symbol of the successful immigrant.

Father, the fireworks-loving wealthy, is the symbol of the play’s past, and JP Thibodeau’s physical and vocal emphasis diminishes as the upheaval in his home and country intensifies.

Ragtime: A Concert Performance is a rich marriage of music and storytelling that speaks so clearly to the fabric of America and the enduring belief in the American Dream.

There are two final performances today at the Jack Singer Concert Hall at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Best seats are for the matinee. Tickets range from $39 to $89.

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