Facts about Ragtime: The Musical
Ragtime: The Musical Synopsis:
The story concerns three intersecting story lines: The New Rochelle Family (known as Father, Mother, their son Little Boy, and Mother’s Younger Brother), Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and his love interest Sarah, and Tateh the Jewish immigrant and his daughter, known as Little Girl. As Father leaves on a voyage to the North Pole, his ship passes another ship taking Tateh and Little Girl to America. Sarah and her son are both welcomed by Father’s family in New Rochelle, New York. Coalhouse visits the family weekly in attempts to reunite with Sarah and their son. Little Boy is in love with the iconic
celebrity of the era, EvelynNesbit. Tateh is woven into the story when Nesbit, on a visit to their lower east side neighborhood, connects with Tateh’s daughter and visits regularly. Younger Brother takes up the workers’ cause, with violent results. Through several twists and turns, the three story lines eventually converge when Coalhouse Walker’s beloved Model T car is vand
alized by racists. Sarah appeals to the future president Howard Taft for justice in the vandalism case but is shot by the secret service. In the second act, Tateh has overcome many trials and become a successful filmmaker. Attempting to seek justice for Sarah’s shooting, Coalhouse takes hostages at the Morgan library and has a confrontation with the police and Booker T. Washington.
Background and History of the Show:
Ragtime is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E. L. Doctorow. At the time it was written, it was heralded as a unique adaptation of the historical narrative genre with a subversive 1970’s slant. The novel and the show blend fictional and historical figures into a framework that revolves around events, characters and ideas important in American history. The musical was written by Terrence McNally, and made its world premiere at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in Toronto on December 8th, 1996. The show debuted on Broadway on January 18th, 1998, and ran for two years and over 800 performances before it closed in 2000. The original show included on-stage fireworks and a working Model T. The original cast featured the talents of Brian Stokes Mitchell (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.) and Audra McDonald (Sarah), as well as Lea Michele (Little Girl) in her Broadway debut. The show was nominated for 13 Tony Awards in 1998, but lost in many categories to The Lion King, including Best Musical. Ragtime was revived on Broadway for the 2009 season and received another 7 Tony Award nominations. The current national tour of the show will run from October 2015 to June 2016.
Things to Watch and Interesting Info to Know:
- One of the characters in the show (Young Coalhouse) will be played by a young member of the Owensboro community. This was also the case the first time that RiverPark hosted the show in 2002.
“Father” of ragtime music, Ernest Hogan, was born in Bowling Green, KY in 1865. He is credited as being the first person to publish in the ragged musical style.
- There have been 38 different musical numbers in the show at one time or another. Many have been shortened or excised in different versions of the production.
- The original orchestra included 26 musicians playing 22 different instruments due to the wide variety of musical styles throughout the show.
- The ragtime style of music was one of the main influences on the early development of jazz and the blues. As jazz grew in popularity, ragtime slowly faded from the forefront, but it has had several revivals throughout the years.
Characters in the Show:
Coalhouse Walker, Jr.: A ragtime pianist who is in love with Sarah. He woos her with ragtime tunes, and then when tragedy hits, he seeks vengeance by resorting to violence and setting fires. He becomes a notorious celebrity, and is publically condemned by Booker T. Washington.
Sarah: Love interest of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Her wedding is postponed, and when she tried to seek help, tragedy strikes.
Father: The head of a well-to-do white family, and a manufacturer of fireworks. He leaves for a voyage to the North Pole, and when he returns, he finds things have changed far beyond his understanding. He unsuccessfully tries to reconnect with the world left behind before his journey. His sense of nostalgia and connection for the past prevents him from adapting to the realities of the new world in which he exists.
Mother: Married to Father. She represents the rapidly changing ideals and cultural norms evident during the time period. She embraces the changes that she sees happening in the country.
Tateh: A Jewish artist who immigrates to New York with his young daughter. He progresses from having naïve optimism about the new world to being miserable in the face of poverty. He is fully committed to his daughter, and does everything he can to make life better for her.
Younger Brother: Mother’s Younger Brother. An intense, awkward young man who is always searching for something fulfilling in his life. He lacks direction and focus.
Grandfather: Grandfather of the well-to-do white family. Very crotchety and set in his ways.
The Little Boy (Edgar): Son of Mother and Father. Inquisitive, smart, and creative. He becomes friends with Tatah’s daughter.
The Little Girl: Tatah’s daughter. She is reserved, quiet, and mature for her young age. Becomes friends with The Little Boy.
Harry Houdini: One of the many historical figures in the show. Houdini embodies the story of an immigrant’s success in America.
Evelyn Nesbit: Historical figure. Evelyn is a model, chorus girl, and actress that is at the height of her popularity. She is idolized by Younger Brother.
Booker T. Washington: Historical Figure. Washington attempts to be the example of wisdom and restraint for his people in the face of many injustices. He is idolized by Coalhouse.
Emma Goldman: Historical figure. Attempts to enlist Tateh in the fight for worker’s rights. Sometimes seen as a staunch anarchist, she is able to inspire large masses to take action even under the possibility of strong consequences.
Henry Ford: Historical figure. Very folksy and full of himself. Explains the system of automated production to Coalhouse.
JP Morgan: Historical figure. Entrepreneur who represents the highest of the high in society. His library is invaded by Coalhouse.
Willie Conklin: Willie epitomizes racial intolerance, and is the spark for Coalhouse’s mini-revolution.Share: