REVIEW: Park the car at the Company Theatre for their bustling, meaningful musical ‘Ragtime’

Oh, how that music rolls along.  Much like the show’s polished Ford Model T, Company Theatre’s Ragtime the Musical hums like a well oiled machine, driven by its marvelous music, veering into life’s complicated pursuit of happiness.

Composed of an energetic, 15 piece live orchestra led by Music Director Steve Bass, this bustling, message-driven musical portrays America through many different sets of eyes, an America full of expectations, hope, and disappointment.  Many looked to America for answers and some discovered it was not quite what they expected.  Some realized the answers were there all along, and some took their comfortable world for granted.  As each impressive note swells, another day dawns to face fears, work harder, and support your neighbor.  You might even find yourself singing a new song.

Company Theatre kicked off their 40th season with Ragtime the Musical on Friday, July 27 and continuing Sunday, August 19 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information and for tickets.

Company Theatre Ragtime through August 19

Courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

Ragtime the Musical explores America from many different perspectives from Eastern European immigrants, people of Harlem led by a successful jazz musician, and the upper-class residents of New Rochelle, New York.  Much of Ragtime is a historical story told.  Narrated with gravitas in part by Jeffrey Sewell as Younger Brother, the catchy, rich, and stirring vocals combined with the complex, interweaving tale is the real magic of this piece. With a cast brimming with sensational voices, Ragtime delivers one spine-tingling song after another.

With the bulk of the cast frequently onstage, costume designer Brianna Plummer carefully orchestrates a bold statement into each costume, painting her own distinct portrait from white lace and pearls to bowler hats and colorful suits faithful to the era.  Behind a white parasol and a string of pearls, Paula Markowitz portrays privileged, yet compassionate New Rochelle resident, Mother.  Markowitz’s silvery soprano vocals soar with the heartfelt numbers, Goodbye, My Love and Back to Before.  It is a privilege to see Markowitz depict her character on a transformative journey, torn between her pensive pauses and her impulsiveness.

With a firm, bearded frown, Peter S. Adams portrays seemingly controlling Father as unyieldingly practical, astute, and always driven by what he thinks are good intentions.  Adams and Markowitz have a familiar chemistry that takes on the earmarks of an old married couple.  They move together with a comforting predictability.  Adams’s melodious, rich vocals are especially poignant during the number, New Music.

Company Theatre 'Ragtime' 'What a Game'

Peter S. Adams as Father and Owen Veith as The Little Boy with cast in the number, ‘What a Game’ Photo courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

Owen Veith portrays their chatty, wise, and precocious Little Boy.  Not only is he an adorable addition to the cast, but Veith has some real comic timing as he innocently spouts out truth at the most inconvenient times.

Michael Hammond delivers warmth and enthusiasm as Jewish immigrant, Tateh.  He is a seemingly jubilant hard worker, often hiding his pain.  He has a sweet compatibility with Hannah Dwyer as The Little Girl as they discover a new world and is especially charming during the imaginative number, Gliding.

Ragtime cast

(L to R) Barbara Baumgarten, Cristian Sack, Hilary Goodnow, Brenna Kenney, Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, with Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl and Michael Hammond as Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

Introduced fittingly by the infectious tune Henry Ford, The Ford Model T is something to behold and is its own character.  With working headlights, the Ford Model T is suburb, much like the character driving it.  Last seen as the Wizard in Lyric Stage Company’s The Wiz, Davron S. Monroe as Model T owner and successful Harlem jazz musician Colehouse Walker Jr. embodies the role with charisma, dignity, and sympathetic earnestness.  One could also listen to his velvety vocals all day.   Arielle Rogers delivers a moving performance as Sarah, punctuated by her pained, heart rendering version of Daddy’s Son.  Together, they perform a magnificent version of Wheels of a Dream.  Get in the car, park it at Company Theatre, and witness that magic.

Company Theatre 'Ragtime' Colehouse Walker Jr and cast

Devron S. Monroe as Colehouse Walker Jr. in ‘Ragtime’ with cast Photo courtesy of Company Theatre for the Arts

The show is not without its moments of satirical humor delivered by over the top, flirtatious showgirl, model, and actress Evelyn Nesbit, portrayed with a wink and a smile by Sarah Kelly.  Along with James Fernandez as spectacular Hungarian immigrant illusionist Harry Houdini, these two historical figures shine the light on what the world aspires to.

Company Theatre’s Ragtime the Musical continues through Sunday, August 19 at Company Theatre for the Arts, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts. Click here for more information, tickets, and how to support Company Theatre’s future.  Also follow Company Theatre on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn all about their milestone 40th season.

For Performing Arts news, interviews, reviews, and much more in Boston and beyond, follow us on Facebook @sleeplesscritic and subscribe.

REVIEW: WGBH’s annual ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ offered humor, inspiration, and vibrant performances

Lighthearted tales of green porridge, an inspirational insect, a hilarious song about classical Greek to more serious fare such as historical anti-war songs, punctuated with the stirring song, Siúil a Rún, sung a capella, highlighted this year’s WGBH’s A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn.  This captivating show concluded its run at Harvard University’s famous Sanders Theatre on Saturday, March 18.  The majestic stage has been affectionately likened to a “roll up desk.”  The beautiful, dark wooden stage was softly-lit with two stately, marble Greek statues sitting on each end as a grand, dimly-lit bronze chandelier floats overhead.

A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn always strikes a delicate balance between the rollicking and a sweet lullaby.  Wearing coordinated black dresses, Scottish musicians Jenna and Mairi Chaimbeul struck the first chords for an afternoon of celebration, comedy, rebellion, and joy wrapped up in the roots and branches of Irish music.  A high energy number greeted the enthusiastic crowd as the rest of this dynamic ensemble took the stage including returning Music Director and multi-instrumentalist Keith Murphy, The Karan Casey Band, fiddle champion Liz Carroll, and the Miller Family with the Goulding School of Irish Music.  Joined by host WGBH’s Brian O’Donovan, A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn was brought to a thrilling start as it traditionally does each year.

Dressed in a black and red dress, Karan Casey’s vocals soar with a tone a bit reminiscent of Linda Ronstadt.  She embraced Buile Mo Chroí’s passionate lyrics such as “the palm of my hand” and “the beat of my heart” accompanied by a concertina, blues guitar, and piano.   She also gave an enthralling performance later as Brian O’Donovan shared how the Irish spontaneously sings in public places.  Karan Casey then offered an impromptu a cappella version of Siúil a Rún as the audience fell into hushed tones before bursting into applause.

All Ireland fiddle champion Liz Carroll, dressed in a red shirt and black pants, offered some welcome comedic storytelling before each of her performances.  Hailing from Chicago, she humorously named a song she’s written on her slide-style fiddle after her brother’s leading film role in The Relic.  She also talked about composing songs for seven rooms in a Chicago art museum containing ceramics, musical instruments, and metal.  Her dry sense of humor combined with her uplifting, toe-tapping songs were wonderful to witness.

Liz was joined by Keith Murphy, who spoke of green porridge on St. Patrick’s Day, for two songs, one amusingly called Barbara Streisand Trip that had the mounting energy and pulsing rhythms of a moving train.  From Newfoundland, Keith Murphy’s performances are always stellar, with a song named after a Tennyson poem about seafaring and the great beyond. He was accompanied by harpist Jenna Moynihan.  His rich, resonant, smooth sound, which possesses a hint of James Taylor and John Denver, is always remarkable.

As for the inspirational insect, Scottish fiddler Jenna Moynihan and harp player and composer Mairi Chaimbeul, competing in a harp festival in April, judged that a particular song was good by an insect that made its presence known after the song, Dancing in Absence was completed.  With the chime of the harp distinct over the fiddler’s subtle rhythm, the energetic tune built into a quick step.

Sam Miller, athletic and blindingly swift, kept the energy high as he performed solo with high leaps, kicks, and complicated stepping.  The Miller dancers and the Goulding School of Irish Music, in coordinated black traditional garb, offered their own moments of comedy, one involving a hat.  They also skillfully navigated though a slip jig and hornpipe reel, showing just why they ranked 5th place at the Glasgow competition traditional set dance.

 

A St. Patrick's Day Celtic Sojourn

Past photo of ‘A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn’ Courtesy of A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn/WGBH

Keeping up with tradition, Brian O’Donovan, with his wife and the ensemble took the stage to pay tribute to The Clancy Brothers with the catchy tune, The Leaving of Liverpool.

The second half tackled anti-war songs, immigration, and its fair share of comedy mixed in.  Not only did Brian O’Donovan proudly share a comedic song on classical Greek and education at Harvard University accompanied by fiddler Kevin Burke, but on a solemn note, also paid a compelling tribute to the late Leonard Cohen with a song about rebellion called The Partisan.  Brian and Keith Murphy created beautiful harmony, enhanced exquisitely by Mairi Chaibeul’s harp.

The afternoon also boasted collaborative jam sessions that brought the audiences to a stomping rhythm and ending with Karan Casey leading a sing-along on immigration with the entire ensemble, showing how music always makes a difference in the world.

A Celtic Sojourn presents their summer Roots and Branches concert in July, A Christmas Celtic Sojourn, and other events during the year.  For a taste of Irish and Celtic traditions each Saturday afternoon, click here to tune in to A Celtic Sojourn hosted by Brian O’Donovan on 89.7 FM WGBH from 3 – 6 p.m.  Follow A St. Patrick’s Day Celtic Sojourn on Facebook for updates and much more.