The bar just got raised in the already thriving Dallas theater scene.
Uptown Players, gay Dallas’ favorite theater company, has collaborated with the award-winning, world renown all male chorus, Turtle Creek Chorale in presenting a concert production of the Broadway musical "Ragtime" in the recently opened Dallas City Performance Hall. The combination is ecstatic and holds great promise (fingers crossed) for future collaborations. "Ragtime" opened Friday night, one of only four performances for this brilliant production.
"Ragtime" is based on E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name and premiered on Broadway with much acclaim in 1998 earning 13 Tony nominations, winning four and enjoying a two-year run.
"Ragtime" has a very large and intertwined plot concerning three groups of families at the turn of the 20th century. These include a well off Caucasian family, an extended large African-American family and a Jewish father and daughter recently immigrated to the United States.
The well off Caucasian family lives a carefree life, well insulated from the plight of others in their isolated bubble in Plano -- I mean, upstate New York. Both the African-American and Jewish families endure the inequality of wealth, justice, pay, working and social conditions. It doesn’t sound like much has changed in a 100 years does it?
The original Broadway production of "Ragtime" is remembered for its lavish sets. The absence of any sets in the Uptown/Turtle Creek Chorale production doesn’t diminish the impact of the show at all. The members of the chorale, all in black, sit in four rows of bleachers while the principal cast members, dressed in period costumes, enter from stage right or stage left for their scenes.
The Turtle Creek Chorale, under the direction of Trey Jacobs is fabulous and their combined voices accompanying and providing backup to the principal players provides the show with a vocal universality that is only rivaled on Dallas stages by the Dallas Opera.
Against such a stark set-less but full stage the performances needed to be stellar for this "Ragtime" to work and Director Michael Serrecchia’s performers are just that.
At the heart of the African-American story are Markus Lloyd and Feleceia Benton as Coalhouse Walker and Sarah. Lloyd commands the stage especially in the back-to-back first act numbers "His Name was Coalhouse Walker" and "The Getting Ready Rag." The Sarah character is subdued and tragic and Benton breaks your heart. Broadway mega-star Audra McDonald won a Tony for her performance as Sarah.
The Jewish characters plotline is sleight but David Meglino makes a memorable impression as a father wanting a better life for his young daughter.
From the Caucasian lineup Quinlin Sandefer (Little Boy) and Tyce Green (Younger Brother) are fantastic in surprisingly meaty roles. But Mary Gilbreath Grim is the beating heart of "Ragtime" and is insanely talented bringing down the house late in the second act with her soulful rendition of "Back to Before."
Speaking of soul, the marvelous score of "Ragtime" contains soul and much more. Lush ballads, stirring marches and soaring gospel are part of the "Ragtime" musical tapestry. And composer Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens ingeniously weave a thread of Scott Joplin within each musical style. Flaherty and Ahrens won the Tony award for Best Original Score for their work in "Ragtime."
Uptown and Turtle Creek’s "Ragtime" is top-notch, Broadway quality theater that would be at home at the New York City Center whose "Encores!" series presents great American musicals in concert annually. The most famous of these is the musical "Chicago" which played at the City Center in 1996, quickly transferred to Broadway and recently became the third longest running musical in Broadway history.
The beautiful newly opened 750-seat Dallas City Performance Hall finds itself in a two-block portion of the Dallas Arts District that also includes the Wyly Theater, the Meyerson Symphony Center and the Winspear Opera. It’s not Times Square but it helps cement Dallas as a hot, growing theater mecca.