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.

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Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford talks 40th anniversary, ‘Ragtime’, and the theatre’s exciting future

Underneath a tent on a bright summer day, Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford, enthusiastic and smiling, has a lot to celebrate.  The award-winning Company Theatre is as busy as ever as they prepare to open their 40th season with beloved musical, Ragtime   July 27.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Zoe reflects on how Company Theatre has evolved over the years and her extraordinary vision for the future which goes well beyond their 2.3 acres in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s 40th anniversary. Even in the last five years, so much has happened from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) having an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  Our growing summer program is currently at capacity with 200 kids.  Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We now have a path to the pond front and we’re holding classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

Company Theatre's Paragon Park cast

The 2012 ‘Paragon Park’ cast, photo courtesy of Company Theatre

SC:  The original musical Paragon Park took place in 2012.  Are there any original shows you are working on?

ZB:  Michael Hammond and I loved working on Paragon Park together and we want to do another one.  We’re bookending our 40th anniversary with the start of Ragtime and ending summer to summer with a revival of Paragon Park in 2019 as opposed to the season running January to December.

Paragon Park will be the pinnacle of our 40th celebration with a wonderful night of dinner and dancing at Nantasket Beach Resort in Hull.  Preceding that will be a VIP cocktail reception where guests can go on the Carousel and ride the ponies if they wish.  Then we’ll trolley to the hotel for celebration and fundraising.

Company Theatre's original production, 'Paragon Park'

TV personality Scott Wahle with ‘Paragon Park’ cast The Company Theatre’s will reprise its original production of Paragon Park the Musical, which premiered in 2012, image by Zoe Bradford

We’ll also have an outdoor VIP cocktail reception before opening Ragtime and featuring the Model T Ford, which is integral to Ragtime’s story.  It looks like the real thing, built exactly to scale.  Bob Grazioso, who has since retired from technical director but is still active at Company Theatre, built the Model T Ford when we did the show in 2003.  The Ford Motor Company wanted to buy it from us, but we kept it because we wanted to do the show again.

Ragtime's Booker T. Washington with the Statue of Liberty

Todd McNeel Jr. of Boston as Booker T. Washington in ‘Ragtime’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  When you revive a show like Ragtime, what kind of changes do you make?

ZB:  Life happens.  My thinking has evolved from 2003 to 2018 just from life experience and I have approached Ragtime differently than I did then.  We have three actors reprising their roles and 40 cast members who all feel it is a different experience than last time.

We did Ragtime in 2003 because there are strong, underlying themes of racism in the early 1900s and our attitude was thank God this is all behind us.  Now this show has never been needed more.  Shockingly, things have gone backwards and we have to speak out.  Being a huge sympathizer of Black Lives Matter and having a black adopted daughter puts a lot of things into perspective.

Back then, immigration was sort of in the forefront of the news, but not like it is today.  The show is about immigrants, which is about America and coming to America.

My passion lies in great storytelling.  Ragtime is a prevalent, uplifting show with three beautiful, intertwining stories involving a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, a New Rochelle family, and jazz musician Colehouse Walker Jr. who buys the Model T.  It’s a moving, relatable show about family, choosing family, and acceptance.  It also has a brilliant score and we have a fifteen piece live orchestra.  In my long theatre career, Ragtime is one of my top three shows.  People will leave feeling good.

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(L to R) Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, Cristian Sack, Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl, Michael Hammond as Tateh, Barbara Baumgarten, Brenna Kenney, Melissa Carubia as Emma Goldman (on soapbox), Hilary Goodnow Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Period pieces can be difficult from costuming to the fine details and Ragtime must be a monster to put together.

ZB:  It’s challenging, but we have our costumer Bree Plummer.  We would love to have her as a resident, but she is also a teacher so we get her when we can.  I work with a great team of designers including Ryan Barrow and James Valentin to make the most beautiful show possible.  We love period pieces because we can make it interesting.

I’m trying to let others set design because people have to carry the legacy on just in case.  I probably won’t ever retire, but will let people take over certain aspects.  As I let some things go, I plan to write more.

Company Theatre's  2018 'Ragtime'

(L to R) Hannah Dwyer of Scituate as Little Girl with Michael Hammond of Holbrook as her father Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Spring Awakening also took place in the last five years, another daring show.

ZB:  I didn’t cut it, though it was handled carefully.  Though it happened in a different era, the themes are also relevant today and people need things they can relate to.  I also love a good score.  Steve Bass came on in 2016 and we’ve made him our resident Music Director and may keep him on indefinitely.  He’s a young, brilliant pianist and has his PhD from the Conservatory.

Company Theatre's musical, Spring Awakening

Company Theatre’s 2014 musical, ‘Spring Awakening’  Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into unchartered waters a bit.  Last year was haunted with Carrie the Musical and Lizzie Borden.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  A gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed a little how we choose our shows, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do Wicked, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a brand new ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.  The Wiz was recently in Boston and the star of Ragtime portrayed the Wizard.

SC: What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

The Company Theatre logo

Company Theatre’s logo, a design Zoe Bradford hand drew 40 years ago

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and in our 40th year, we are finally setting up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For the last ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Click here for tickets or call the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here on how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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

 

Jukebox rockin’ ‘Smokey Joe’s Cafe,’ epic musical, ‘Ragtime,’ and stirring musical, ‘Oliver’ part of Company Theatre’s stellar 40th season

A birdcage, jukebox, a group of kittens, and an orange pocket watch were just a few of the visual clues left on the Company Theatre’s Facebook page in reference to their upcoming 40th anniversary season.  This exciting new season was proudly unveiled at Company Theatre’s annual Open House at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts on Saturday, November 18.  As the Company Theatre is about to launch an original musical production, Company for the Holidays on November 25, audiences can also look forward to an excellent balance of classic and contemporary theatre productions in the new year.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Company for the Holidays

The Company Theatre will offer new holiday fare with Company for the Holidays on Saturday, November 25 through Sunday, November 26 and continuing Thursdays through Sundays through December 17.  Shared in three parts with a large ensemble cast, this musical extravaganza includes a new take on a few classics such as All I Want for Christmas is You, White Christmas, and Santa Baby before venturing into a refreshing comedy about Christmas in ‘Bahston,’ and then closing out the show with nativity tale that will bring the audience to their feet.

Take a walk down memory lane with the Grammy award-winning Smokey Joe’s Café, a musical showcase that explores the most enduring songs in rock and roll and rhythm and blues history.  From romantic ballads to uplifting rhythms, Smokey Joe’s Café brings remarkable tunes to life.  Just a few of the songs featured on the Company Theatre stage includes Jailhouse Rock, Stand By Me, Hound Dog, Love Potion #9 and Fools Fall in Love.   Smokey Joe’s Café heats up the Company Theatre for a limited time from February 8-11, 2018.

Robin Williams and Nathan Lane made an uproarious comedy team on the 1996 hit comedy film, The Birdcage, based on the Franco-Italian film, La Cage Aux Folles. The Tony award-winning show, La Cage Aux Folles focuses on a night club owner named Georges and his romantic partner, Albin.  Upon learning Georges’ son is engaged to the daughter of an ultra-conservative politician, Georges and Albin may have to go to extreme measures to come off as a wholesome and normal family to hilarious results. La Cage Aux Folles takes the stage on Friday, March 16 through Sunday, April 8.

Earning multiple Tony Awards including best original score, watch three beautiful tales unfold about American life at the turn of the 20th century with the epic musical, Ragtime.  An immigrant, a wealthy family, and a Harlem musician all aspire for hope in the face of struggle to live the American dream.  Ragtime opens Friday, July 27 and closes on Sunday, August 19.

The Company Theatre rounds out the season with the British Farce, Loot from Friday, October 5 through Sunday, October 21, and closes with Lionel Bart’s classic musical, Oliver! from Friday, November 23 through Sunday, December 16, about a young orphan who dreams of a better life.

Company Theatre new season

The Company Theatre celebrates their 40th season. Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

The Company Theatre also announced the new season of The Academy of the Company Theatre which includes Anything Goes, Cats, The Werewolves, The Rocky Horror Show, and Disney’s Mulan Jr.  Don’t miss a moment of Company Theatre’s spectacular 40th season.  All performances take place at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Click here for more information and upcoming events or call 1-781-871-2787.  Follow Company Theatre on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.