Bay Street’s ‘Ragtime’ is a masterclass in musical theater

After the shock of seeing a less than full house for the opening night of July’s MainStage Season show from Bay Street, Anna in the tropicsit was exciting to not only attend a full house for their final MainStage 2022 show, Ragtimebut a NOISY house.

The audience applauded intensely after each song, shouting “Bravo!” at least twice throughout the show, and when the musical ended, the cast could barely gather for their bow before the audience rose to a record-breaking standing ovation. The show and the audience were a sight to behold.

So why this explosive reception? Well, for starters, Ragtime – with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and a book by Terrence McNally – couldn’t be more timely. This production, directed by Will Pomerantz, brought to light a number of recent and ongoing hot topics, such as racism and xenophobia, police brutality and special treatment, the fake “Karens” report and more.

Its characters – though roughly half nameless and half fictionalized about historical figures – are nearly all fleshed out and see engaging and relatable development throughout the show’s events leading up to their individual endings. Some of the relationships between the characters are written, directed, and acted out so well that you can feel the audience captivated by their fascinating dynamics.

The show’s romantic stars are the fatales Sarah (Kyrie Courter) and Coalhouse (Derrick Davis), whose brilliant onstage chemistry is only surpassed by their jaw-dropping vocal performances.

In terms of raw vocal strength, Courter and Davis are among the top three absolute powerhouses in this production. During Courter’s first solo song, “Your Daddy’s Son,” she delivers an emotional punch of a performance, hitting one tear-filled note after another.

During the song’s handful of faux outros, the audience could be seen eagerly checking to see if the coast was clear to burst into applause. Once she dropped that last note, the room erupted in cheers.

Courter and Davis—along with Daniel Jenkins (father), Lora Lee Gayer (mother), and Harrison Bryan (younger brother), and company—received the first “Bravo!” of the show with their performance of “New Music,” expertly choreographed by Christopher and Lauren Grant. It was here that Davis’ powerful voice first stood out, and he followed it up in Act 2 with “Make Them Hear You”, which received the second “Bravo!” of the night.

Derrick Davis and Kyrie Courter in ‘Ragtime’ at the Bay Street TheaterLenny Stucker, courtesy Bay Street Theater

When it comes to compelling character development, the journeys of Mother and Father are masterfully portrayed by Gayer and Jenkins. Beginning the show as a product of the racist white family of the time, audiences can follow along as mother and father embark on their own paths to empathy and respect, in different ways and at radically different paces. .

Gayer’s mother quickly transitions into her role as the show’s heart and moral center once she commits to raising Sarah’s baby. Cradling the “baby” in almost every scene in the series must have been exhausting – even prompting Father to crack a joke about it – but no one could tell by the way Gayer gracefully strode across the stage in Mother’s vintage dresses. , belting out like a world-class opera singer whenever the songbook called for it.

His big operatic solo came near the end of Act 2 with “Back to Before,” which received the most thunderous applause of the act.

The slower, more stubborn transition from father was perfectly portrayed by Jenkins. Its abrasive energy served to amp up the drama and tension of the piece, while being nuanced enough to create a believable moment of turning over a new leaf near the end of the piece.

Younger Brother is that person many people know who devotes all his time and passion to a new person or hobby every month, but never quite finds what will fill them. These types of characters can be gritty if not executed properly, but Bryan has struck the ideal balance between satirical silliness and heartfelt earnestness.

The purest and most endearing element of the play is easily the relationship between Jewish immigrant Tateh (Zachary Prince) and his daughter, known simply as Little Girl (Sonnie Betts). The pair managed to smother the audience on several occasions as Tateh’s unconditional love for her daughter was shown in various ways, including singing “Gliding” to her. Tears were shed over Prince’s sincere and heartfelt performance.

We can’t forget Will Hantz’s delightful performance as The Boy, Victoria Hustin-Elem’s captivating take on Emma Goldman, Davon Williams’ commanding presence as Booker T. Washington, Ryan M. Hunt’s contribution as antagonistic heel Willie Conklin, or Cathryn Wake’s wide-eyed, hysterical portrayal of Evelyn Nesbit atop a hanging swing in “Crime of the Century.”

While some speaking roles were woefully small, Clyde Voce shone brightly when given the chance to be assistant to Matthew Henson and Baron Ashkenazy; ditto for Cecelia Ticktin as Kathleen and Taylor Jackson as Harlem Woman. As for Rachel Parker, please someone give her more singing roles, because her short solo in “Till We Reach That Day” was a pure and powerful gospel gift sung with the voice of an angel. .

Director Will Pomerantz and lyricist Lynn Ahrens said Dan’s papers last month that Ragtime can be at its best when scaled down with less of the distracting Broadway spectacle of endearing characters and their stories. As usual, Bay Street Theater has created a rich storytelling experience that focuses on those intimate moments and complex characters, but does so without totally removing the spectacle. It’s both thrilling and poignant – a masterclass in intimate musical theatre.

For more information or tickets, visit baystreet.org.