And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The wooden, star-spangled banner bedecks the stage arch at the Charing Cross Theatre for Thom Southerland’s sensational and triumphant revival of Ragtime. It stands as a reminder of the freedom that America promises and the equality offered to all despite their religion, race or beliefs. There’s still a long way to go and despite taking place at the turn of the 20th Century, Ragtime feels frighteningly current, as America’s future teeters on the edge of the election.
The characters who centre E.L Doctorow’s poignant tale truly are the brave, whose hearts get broken, dreams dashed and are faced with brutal injustice. Three stories are delicately woven together, portraying the lives of Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr, Jewish immigrant Tateh seeking a new life with his daughter, and a white middle class family from Rochelle with Mother at the helm.
Their plight rises through Stephen Flaherty’s rich and beautiful score, with lyrics that soar and have the power to truly move. There is so much soul and heart at the core of this musical, superbly delivered by an exceptional cast of 24. The orchestra are the actors as the company waltz, weave and shimmy with their instruments across the stage – skilfully led by Jordan Li-Smith. Despite filling the intimate stage, it never feels cluttered and cleverly choreographed by Ewan Jones.
Ako Mitchell as Coalhouse Walker Jr. gives an impassioned performance as a shattered man, left broken-hearted at the hands of racism. He is the cause in this passionate journey. Jennifer Saayeng plays the mother of his child who is tragically killed at a rally, and the pair give a most extraordinary performance of raw emotion and of immeasurable talent – seriously THOSE voices.
Equally Anita Louise Combe as Mother, provides the moral root to the piece, a champion for equality and compassionate to all – even a stubborn minded Father. She is as strong in character as she is in voice, blowing her rendition of Back to Before sky high.
Southerland and producer Tarento had a tough feat to bring another masterpiece out of the musical bag, but oh lordy lord they’ve done it. There isn’t a single weak link in this magnificent production and the cast dazzle with every note “And as those fingers stroke those keys, every note say’s “please” and every chord says “turn my way”. It’s simply unmissable.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Rylander)