Ragtime (musical)

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Cover of cast recording
MusicStephen Flaherty
LyricsLynn Ahrens
BookTerrence McNally
BasisE.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime
Productions1996 Toronto
1998 Broadway
1998- 1999 U.S. Tour
2003 West End
International productions
2009 Kennedy Center
2009 Broadway revival
2012 London Revival
AwardsTony Award for Best Book
Tony Award for Best Score
Drama Desk for Best Musical
Drama Desk Award for Best Book
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Cover of cast recording
MusicStephen Flaherty
LyricsLynn Ahrens
BookTerrence McNally
BasisE.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime
Productions1996 Toronto
1998 Broadway
1998- 1999 U.S. Tour
2003 West End
International productions
2009 Kennedy Center
2009 Broadway revival
2012 London Revival
AwardsTony Award for Best Book
Tony Award for Best Score
Drama Desk for Best Musical
Drama Desk Award for Best Book

Ragtime is a musical with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty. The music includes marches, cakewalks, gospel and ragtime and the production is mostly sung-through.

Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia.

Historical figures including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry Kendall Thaw, Admiral Peary, Matthew Henson, and Emma Goldman are represented in the stories.


Original Broadway production[edit]

The musical had its world premiere in Toronto, where it opened at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts (later renamed the Toronto Centre for the Arts) on December 8, 1996, the brainchild of Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky and his Livent Inc., the Toronto-production company he headed.[1] The US Premier was in Los Angeles in 1997 and ran one year before opening on Broadway on January 18, 1998 as the first production in the newly opened Ford Center for the Performing Arts. Directed by Frank Galati and choreographed by Graciela Daniele, Ragtime ran for two years, closing on January 16, 2000, after 834 performances and 27 previews. The original cast included Brian Stokes Mitchell, Marin Mazzie, Peter Friedman and Audra McDonald, who were all nominated for Tony Awards, and also included Judy Kaye, Mark Jacoby and Lea Michele. The production was conducted by David Loud.

The production received mixed reviews, many critics noting that the dazzling physical production (with an $11 million budget, including fireworks and a working Model T automobile) overshadowed problems in the script. Ben Brantley's review in the New York Times was headlined "A diorama with nostalgia rampant."[2] It led the 1998 Tony Awards with thirteen Tony Award nominations, but Disney's The Lion King won as Best Musical. The musical won awards for Best Featured Actress (McDonald), Original Score, Book, and Orchestrations. According to The New York Times, "The chief competition for The Lion King was Ragtime, a lavish musical."[3] The New York Times also noted that "The season was an artistic success as well, creating one of the most competitive Tony contests in years, with a battle in almost every category capped by the titanic struggle for the best musical award between Ragtime with 13 nominations and The Lion King with 11."[4] The Broadway production was not financially successful, and some Broadway insiders consider its lavish production to have been the financial "undoing" of Livent.[5][6]

2003 West End production[edit]

Following its European premiere in a concert performance at the Cardiff International Festival of Musical Theatre in 2002 (Which was later telecast on BBC Four), the musical was produced in the West End, London, by Sonia Friedman at the Piccadilly Theatre for a Limited Run from 19 March 2003 - 14 June 2003. This production starred Maria Friedman in the role of Mother, for which she won the 2004 Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical.[7]

2009 Broadway Revival[edit]

A new production opened at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, on April 18, 2009, and ran through May 17, 2009, with direction and choreography by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.[8][9] The production then moved to Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre, with previews beginning on October 23, 2009 and the show officially opened on November 15, 2009. The cast featured Stephanie Umoh (Sarah), Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Christiane Noll (Mother), Robert Petkoff (Tateh), Bobby Steggert (Younger Brother), Donna Migliaccio (Emma Goldman) and Ron Bohmer (Father). This was the first Broadway revival of the musical and the first Broadway revival of any 1990s musical. The production opened to critical acclaim but closed on January 10, 2010 after 28 previews and 65 performances. This production had a large cast and orchestra, resulting in a significant weekly running cost that demanded the show be a popular success in order to prove financially worthwhile. "There had been rumors in recent weeks that the show would not be able to survive into early 2010; there was apparently not enough of an advance sale to encourage the producers." [10] Despite the closing, the production received seven Tony Award nominations, including Best Revival of Musical, Best Direction, Best Actress in Musical, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical. One nomination, for Costume Design, was withdrawn.[11][12]

2012 Shaw Festival Revival[edit]

The Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, revived Ragtime in 2012 in its Festival Theatre as part of its 51st season, with performances scheduled from April 10 through October 14, 2012. The production was directed by Shaw Festival Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell. The role of Coalhouse Walker was played by Thom Allison, with Alana Hibbert as Sarah, Jay Turvey as Tateh, and Patty Jamieson as Mother.[13]

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre Revival[edit]

The Regent's Park Open Air Theatre in London played a revival of the musical from 18 May - 8 September 2012. This production was directed by Artistic Director Timothy Sheader.

2014 Westchester Broadway Revival[edit]

Standing Ovation Studios presented Ragtime the Musical at the Westchester Broadway Theater February 27 to May 4, 2014.[14]


Act One

This quintessential American experience at the turn of the 20th century begins with the introductions of three families from different worlds. The upper class Protestant family—Mother, Father, Mother's Younger Brother, Grandfather, and the Little Boy, Edgar—represents what life was like in the rich, white neighborhoods of New Rochelle, NY. Their extremely sheltered lives were markedly different from those of the African-American and Eastern European Immigrant families headed by Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Tateh, respectively. While Tateh travels to America with his daughter hoping for a new and better life in the land of riches and the first American celebrities (each with their own story of upward or downward momentum), Sarah and the people of Harlem were filled with the joys of Coalhouse's music. What he played was “Ragtime”.

Mother and her Family say goodbye to Father as he embarks on a journey to the North Pole. Father assures her that nothing will change in his absence but Mother hopes differently. (“Goodbye, My Love”) On board Admiral Peary's ship, Father catches glimpse of the rag ship carrying Tateh and his Little Girl to America and sends them a hail across the water. (“Journey On”)

Meanwhile, Younger Brother takes his regular seat in the balcony of a theatre where Evelyn Nesbit, a vaudeville personality, takes the stage in an act about her husband, Harry K. Thaw, who murdered her lover, Stanford White. (“Crime of the Century”) After the show ends, Younger Brother confesses his love to Evelyn but she has no interest in his advances. Back at the Family's home in New Rochelle, Mother unearths a newborn black baby in her garden. The police arrive with Sarah, the baby's mother, for whom Mother takes responsibility. (“What Kind of Woman”)

At Ellis Island, the Immigrants arrive at their new home (“A Shtetl Iz Amereke”) and Tateh begins his new life as an artist making silhouettes but quickly finds the American Dream not so readily accessible. (“Success”) Meanwhile, the people of Harlem dance to Coalhouse's music (“His Name Was Coalhouse”) and he sings of his lost love, Sarah. (“Gettin' Ready Rag”) When he has a plan to get her back, Coalhouse goes to Henry Ford's factory for a brand new Model T. (“Henry Ford”)

Back in New Rochelle, Mother and Edgar wait for the trolley to New York City and meet Tateh and the Little Girl (“Nothing Like the City”), Sarah sings to her son in the attic of their new home (“Your Daddy's Son”), and Coalhouse arrives at the Family's door on his quest to find and win back Sarah (“The Courtship”). Months later, Father returns home to find Coalhouse playing Ragtime in the Family's parlor. He sings about the unexpected and unorthodox changes to his household and how unsure he is of his world. But Mother and Younger Brother have embraced the changes and immeasurably opened their hearts. (“New Music”) Coalhouse finally manages to persuade Sarah of his good intentions and takes her on a picnic. With their child in their arms, the pair sing about the promise this country offers their baby boy. (“Wheels of a Dream”)

With eyes wide open to the world, Younger Brother takes respite from the cold inside a rally held by the anarchist Emma Goldman and what he finds there changes his life forever. (“The Night That Goldman Spoke”) The rally quickly descends into a riot and mirrors a similar strike taking place in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Once the violence subsides, Tateh calms the Little Girl by showing her his book of moving silhouettes. The conductor of the train they are on offers to buy the book and Tateh sells, realizing this is the first step toward a better life. (“Gliding”)

Returning home, Coalhouse and Sarah are stopped by Will Conklin and his volunteer fire squad. Conklin demands a toll be paid in exchange for passage but Coalhouse will not yield to the injustice. The firemen destroy the Model T and roll it into a lake. (“The Trashing of the Car”) Incensed, Coalhouse seeks justice but the system has none to offer. (“Justice”) Coalhouse postpones his marriage to Sarah until his car is restored, which prompts her to seek justice on his behalf. She hears of a campaign rally in New Rochelle and goes in the hopes that the vice-presidential candidate will be able to help. (“President”) However, she is mistaken for a would-be assassin and beaten to death by the Secret Service. At her funeral, grief and anger overtake her mourners. Coalhouse and Younger Brother are moved to action against the perpetrators of the injustice but Mother and Tateh are convinced by Sarah's Friend that they should have hope for a day when all people will have justice and equality. (“Till We Reach That Day”)

Act Two

Edgar watches Harry Houdini perform his act of great escape, climaxing with an explosion of smoke and fire. Edgar wakes up in bed. The Houdini show has been a dream. He yells for his mother. "Something bad is going to happen," he says. "It's Coalhouse." ("Harry Houdini, Master Escapist")

Sarah's death has destroyed the man that Coalhouse once was and he vows to get justice on his own terms. (“Coalhouse's Soliloquy”) He terrorizes New Rochelle, inflicting death and destroying property. There is a group within the black community, led by Booker T. Washington, who deplores Coalhouse's actions but Coalhouse's outrage still reaches the hearts and minds of many. Among them is Younger Brother, who storms out of the Family's home to join the fight. (“Coalhouse Demands”)

Meanwhile, Mother, becoming increasingly irritated by Father's actions, encourages Father to explain what is happening to his son. Instead, Father takes Edgar to a baseball game, expecting it to be like it was when he was in college but quickly finding it to be anything but. (“What a Game”) Father's attempt at distraction is not enough to keep at bay the effects of Coalhouse's demands and acts of violence. (“Fire in the City”)

As the outside world bears down on the Family, Father decides to move them all to Atlantic City where Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini please crowds and lift spirits. (“Atlantic City”) Upon their arrival, the Family meets Tateh who has made himself into a success as a prominent movie director. (“Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.”) Edgar and the Little Girl become fast friends, prompting the growth of a friendship between Mother and Tateh. Together they marvel in how simple and profound children's lives are. (“Our Children”)

Back in Harlem, Younger Brother seeks out Coalhouse but is repeatedly turned away until Coalhouse is convinced that he can be trusted. As one of Coalhouse's men leads Younger Brother to the Gang's hideout, Coalhouse remembers his first encounter with Sarah. (“Sarah Brown Eyes”) Once Younger Brother arrives, he is unable to articulate why he wants to join the fight but instead tells Coalhouse why he will be useful. (“He Wanted to Say”)

Father informs Mother that he's been summoned to New York to help reason with Coalhouse. Before he goes, he assures her that everything will soon return to the way it was but Mother has changed too much to allow that to happen. (“Back to Before”) Upon his arrival, Father discovers that Coalhouse and his men have taken over J.P. Morgan's magnificent library in the heart of the city and are threatening to blow it up. Father suggests that Coalhouse may listen to Booker T. Washington, who finds Coalhouse unreachable until he mentions the legacy Coalhouse is leaving his son. Coalhouse and Washington work out a deal for peaceful surrender but Younger Brother is enraged by Coalhouse's abandonment of their cause. (“Look What You've Done”)

Washington leaves and Father enters the Library as a hostage. The change in his life that he has been so forcefully trying to ignore finally manages to squeeze into his heart as Coalhouse convinces Younger Brother and his men that violence will not solve injustice. Coalhouse charges them all to change society through the power of their words and by telling their children their story. (“Make Them Hear You”) Profoundly affected by their leader, Younger Brother and the Gang leave the Morgan Library peacefully while Father tells Coalhouse about his son. Coalhouse thanks Father for his kindness and, as he leaves the Library, is shot and killed by the police.

Edgar takes on the task of fulfilling Coalhouse's wishes that their story be told. He proclaims the Era of Ragtime to be over. The Company returns to tell us the conclusion of each of their own stories. And though their stories and fates vary, their hope for the future remains constant. (“Wheels of a Dream: Reprise”)



The Tony Award-winning orchestration of Ragtime, by William David Brohn is for twenty-six musicians — four woodwinds, two trumpets (doubling on flugelhorns), two French horns, trombone, tuba, two percussionists, harp, banjo (doubling Mandolin and Guitar), two keyboards, six violins, two violas, two cellos, and upright bass. The first woodwind player doubles on flute and piccolo, second woodwind player doubles English horn and oboe, third on B-flat and E-flat clarinet, and fourth on bass clarinet, clarinet, flute, and soprano sax. The first trumpet part also doubles on flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet. In the original West End production, the fourth woodwind part and bass trombone parts were removed. The 2009 revival switched the doublings for the second and fourth woodwind parts. The fourth woodwind part in the original Broadway production had doublings for flute, bass clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax.


Awards and nominations[edit]

Original Broadway production[edit]

YearAward CeremonyCategoryNomineeResult
1998Tony AwardBest MusicalNominated
Best Book of a MusicalTerrence McNallyWon
Best Original ScoreStephen Flaherty and Lynn AhrensWon
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a MusicalPeter FriedmanNominated
Brian Stokes MitchellNominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a MusicalMarin MazzieNominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a MusicalAudra McDonaldWon
Best Direction of a MusicalFrank GalatiNominated
Best ChoreographyGraciela DanieleNominated
Best OrchestrationsWilliam David BrohnWon
Best Scenic DesignEugene LeeNominated
Best Costume DesignSanto LoquastoNominated
Best Lighting DesignJules Fisher and Peggy EisenhauerNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding MusicalWon
Outstanding Book of a MusicalTerrence McNallyWon
Outstanding Actor in a MusicalPeter FriedmanNominated
Brian Stokes MitchellNominated
Outstanding Actress in a MusicalMarin MazzieNominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a MusicalSteven SutcliffeNominated
Outstanding Director of a MusicalFrank GalatiNominated
Outstanding ChoreographyGraciela DanieleNominated
Outstanding OrchestrationsWilliam David BrohnWon
Outstanding LyricsLynn AhrensWon
Outstanding MusicStephen FlahertyWon
Outstanding Set DesignEugene Lee and Wendall K. HarringtonNominated
Outstanding Costume DesignSanto LoquastoNominated
Outstanding Lighting DesignJules Fisher and Peggy EisenhauerNominated

Original London production[edit]

YearAward CeremonyCategoryNomineeResult
2004Laurence Olivier AwardBest New MusicalNominated
Best Actor in a MusicalGraham BickleyNominated
Kevyn MorrowNominated
Best Actress in a MusicalMaria FriedmanWon
Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a MusicalMatthew WhiteNominated
Best DirectorStafford ArimaNominated
Best Lighting DesignHoward HarrisonNominated
Best Sound DesignPeter KylenskiNominated

2009 Broadway revival[edit]

YearAward CeremonyCategoryNomineeResult
2010Tony AwardBest Revival of a MusicalNominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a MusicalChristiane NollNominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a MusicalBobby SteggertNominated
Best Direction of a MusicalMarcia Milgrom DodgeNominated
Best Scenic DesignDerek McLaneNominated
Best Lighting DesignDonald HolderNominated
Drama Desk AwardOutstanding Revival of a MusicalNominated
Outstanding Actress in a MusicalChristiane NollNominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a MusicalBobby SteggertNominated
Outstanding Director of a MusicalMarcia Milgrom DodgeNominated
Outstanding ChoreographyNominated
Outstanding Set DesignDerek McLaneNominated
Outstanding Sound DesignAcme Sound PartnersWon


  1. ^ Within a year of Ragtime 's Broadway opening, Livent would go bankrupt, and Drabinsky would later be convicted of fraud for activities related to his operation of the company.
  2. ^ Brantley, Ben."Theater Review; 'Ragtime': A Diorama With Nostalgia Rampant" The New York Times, January 19, 1998
  3. ^ Lyman, Rick. "'Art' Wins Best Play in Tonys; 'Lion King' Gets Best Musical", The New York Times, June 8, 1998, p. A1
  4. ^ Lyman, Rick. "The Broadway Season's Last Hurrah, Live From Radio City Music Hall", The New York Times, June 5, 1998, p. E1
  5. ^ Mandelbaum, Ken. "The Insider." Broadway.com. Retrieved 8 January 2006.
  6. ^ Windeler, Robert."SFX Shutters 'Ragtime,' Ex-Livent Crown Jewel" allbusiness.com (publication:BackStage), November 5, 1999
  7. ^ "2004 Oliver Award Winners and Nominations (for 2003 season)", albemarle.com
  8. ^ "Ragtime", kennedy-center.org
  9. ^ 3F "Kennedy Center Ragtime Is Aiming for Broadway" playbill.com
  10. ^ Jones, Kenneth."Say Goodbye to Music: The Era of Ragtime Ends Jan. 10" playbill.com, January 10, 2010
  11. ^ Healy, Patrick.Tony Nomination for Costume Design Withdrawn From 'Ragtime' "The New York Times, May 13, 2010
  12. ^ Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth."2010 Tony Nominations Announced; Fela! and La Cage Top List" playbill.com, May 4, 2010
  13. ^ "'Ragtime' Festival Theatre" shawfest.com, accessed April 28, 2012
  14. ^ http://www.ragtimemusical.com

External links[edit]