Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 10, 2023

REVIEW: Boston Pops Orchestra, " Ragtime: The Symphonic Concert"

Tanglewood, Lenox, MA 
July 8, 2023 
by Michael J. Moran 

Commissioned by the Boston Pops and created by its three authors – librettist Terrence McNally, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and composer Stephen Flaherty – shortly before McNally’s death in 2020, this concert version of "Ragtime" marks the 25th anniversary of the musical’s Broadway opening and presents it on the epic scale that its timeless story deserves. 

Dedicated to McNally, the production was directed by Broadway actor/singer Jason Danieley, who explained in a program note that McNally rewrote scenes into brief narrations by characters, while Ahrens and Flaherty “smartly reduced” their score, “allowing us to jump seamlessly from song to song.” 

The sumptuous, sung-through rendition by a 36-member cast (skillfully deployed across the front of the Koussevitsky Music Shed stage) and an 81-piece orchestra underlined the musical distinction of this tuneful show, including a strong choral dimension, and dramatically amplified its visceral impact. 

"Ragtime" chronicled the overlapping lives of a well-to-do family in 1902 New Rochelle (Mother, Father, their young son, and her Younger Brother), an Eastern European Jewish immigrant (Tateh and his young daughter), and a ragtime pianist from Harlem and his fiancée (Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Sarah), with cameos from real-life figures like Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, and Booker T. Washington. 

No higher praise can go to the three protean standouts – Elizabeth Stanley’s Mother, Alton Fitzgerald White’s Coalhouse, and Nikki Renee Daniels’ Sarah – than to say that all evoked the definitive role accounts by their Broadway originators – the late Marin Mazzie’s Mother, Brian Stokes Mitchell’s Coalhouse, and Audra McDonald’s Tony Award-winning Sarah.
Other notable performances were John Cariani’s touching Tateh, Klea Blackhurst’s fiery Emma Goldman, and A.J.Shively’s mercurial Mother’s Younger Brother. Julia Little as Tateh’s daughter and Quinn Murphy as Mother’s son were charmingly precocious children.
Musical highlights included: Sarah’s poignant “Your Daddy’s Son;” her exhilarating duet with Coalhouse, “Wheels of a Dream;” a hilarious baseball satire “What a Game;” Mother’s thrilling “Back to Before;” and Coalhouse’s stirring “Make Them Hear You.” 

With vivid projections of period historical scenes above the stage by designer Wendall Harrington, the production was also a personal triumph for Danieley, as Mazzie’s husband of 21 years, who called it “one of the most important and meaningful projects I’ve undertaken.” 

The large, enthusiastic audience rewarded him, Ahrens, and Flaherty with a well-earned standing ovation.