REVIEW: Ragtime (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Drury Lane scores big with epic musical “Ragtime”


Drury Lane Oakbrook presents
Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow
Terrance McNally (book), Stephen Flaherty (music), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics)
directed/choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook (map)
through May 23 (more info)

By Katy Walsh

‘What can happen in a year?’ Father’s question is an expectation that life is simple and predictable.

BF1C0838 The reality is birth, death, emancipation, persecution, obsession, syncopation. In 1906, the regularity in life takes unexpected turns as Drury Lane Oakbrook presents Ragtime The Musical. The show focuses on the lives of three groups: WASPs, blacks, and immigrants. In the New York suburbs, a wealthy family breaks the monotony with wild excursions and celebrity stalking. In Harlem, a successful black piano player decides to search for his lost love. Just off the boat, an Jewish immigrant artist and his daughter arrive with nothing but optimistic anticipation. Three distinctly different rhythms unexpectedly intersect to create a new tune. Ragtime celebrates a year in American history by paralleling the adaption of ragtime music with socio-economic changes of the time period. The results are a stunning history lesson intertwined with melodies of hope and change.

Under the skillful direction and choreography of Rachel Rockwell, the tempo never misses a beat. Rockwell strikes all the right notes with this multi-talented cast. Quentin Earl Darrington (Coalhouse) is the powerhouse of emotional range in song and act. His tune changes throughout the show – regret, love, vengeance. Darrington connects the audience with his story based on heart wrenching hope. His “The Wheels of a Dream” duet with Valisia LeKae (Sarah) is flawless. LeKae is a perfect match-up and their onstage chemistry is the epic-love-story-kind. Cory Goodrich (Mother) is marvelous in an understated and nonchalant way. Goodrich’s character changes her family’s life dramatically with simple choices. Her transformation is most baffling to Father played by Larry Adams. In a pivotal song, Adams is perplexed as he sings, ‘I thought I knew what love was but these lovers play different music.’

With inspirational paternal love, Mark David Kaplan (Tateh) chases a train for a teary-eyed audience impact. Alongside the principals, smaller and famous roles engage curiosity. Emma Goldman (Catherine Lord) influences as a social reformer. Evelyn Nesbit (Summer Naomi Smart) is the Brittany Spears of the time period…whee! Harry Houdini (Stef Tovar) mystifies as a successful immigrant. Booker T. Washington (James Earl Jones II) commands integration and respect.

BF1C1085 Larry_and_Cory
BF1C0803 BF1C0945 Mark_Kaplan-Jennifer_Baker

Surprisingly, this blockbuster musical starts with a stark stage. The introduction of characters is a popped up portrait of perfection. Literally, group entrances are elevated from below stage. As the three groups multiply across the stage, the unique flair of costume distinction, designed by Santo Loquasto, is a spectacular visual. Costumes, projections, lighting, moments of tasty eye candy decorate this show. From silhouettes marching to swimmers bathing, the imagery dances to the ragtime.

And there was distant music, simple and somehow sublime. Giving the nation a new syncopation.  The people called it Ragtime!’

Paralleling life’s happenstance, my performance had some twists not necessarily planned. There seemed to be an issue with lighting up the solo singers in the first few scenes. A momentary blip broke the backdrop illusion with a ‘Microsoft word computer screen’ projection. Initially, the audio seemed hollow. I was uncertain if it was a microphone or acoustic issue. It either cleared up or my engrossment made it a moot point. All in all, this production was amazing. It left me reinforced that a gesture of kindness changes life’s courses and bewildered about men’s obsessions with cars.

Rating: ★★★★




Production Cast

  • James Earl Jones II(Booker T. Washington)
  • Valisia LeKae* (Sarah)
  • Quentin Earl Darrington(Coalhouse Walker Jr.)
  • Robert Hildreth* (Grandfather, Judge)
  • Max Quinlan* (Mother’s Younger Brother)
  • Cory Goodrich (Mother)
  • Larry Adams (Father)
  • Zachary Keller (The Little Boy)
  • Daniel Coonley (The Little Boy)
  • Mark David Kaplan* (Tateh)
  • Jennifer Baker (The Little Girl)
  • Stef Tovar* (Harry Houdini, Train Conductor)
  • Ann McMann* (Houdini’s Mother)
  • Don Forston* (J.P. Morgan)
  • Jonathan Weir* (Henry Ford, Admiral Peary, Charles S. Whitman)
  • George Keeting* (Trolley Conductor, Stanford White)
  • Catherine Lord* (Emma Goldman, Baron’s Assistant)
  • Summer Naomi Smart* (Evelyn Nesbit)
  • Dwelvan David* (Matthew Henson)
  • Michael Aaron Lindner* (Harry Thaw, Policeman, Willie Conklin)
  • McKinley Carter* (Kathleen, Welfare Official)
  • Melody Betts* (Sarah’s Friend)
  • George Andrew Wolff* (Child Buyer)
  • Justin Hurst (Coalhouse Walker III)
  • Gabriel Simpson (Coalhouse Walker III)
  • Karen Burthwright* (Pas de Deux)
  • Brandon Koller* (Pas de Deux)
  • Anne Acker (Ensemble)
  • Gary Carlson* (Ensemble)
  • Jameson Cooper* (Ensemble)
  • Stephane Duret (Ensemble)
  • Caitlainne Rose Gurreri (Ensemble)
  • Genevieve H. Perrino (Ensemble)
  • Karen Marie Richardson (Ensemble)
  • Travis Turner* (Ensemble)

Production Team


Director / Choreographer Rachel Rockwell
Asst. Director / Chor Amber Mak
Music Director Roberta Duchak
Scenic Design Kevin Depinet
Costumes Santo Loquasto
Light Design Jesse Klug
Sound Design Garth Helm
Sound Design, Asst Ray Nardelli
Projections Sage Marie Carter
Wig Design Kaity Licina
Additional Costumes Brenda Winstead
Prop Design Michelle N. Warner
Fight Choreographer John Tovar
Stage Manager Kristi J. Martens
Artistic Director William Osetek
Executive Producer Kyle DeSantis

3 Responses

  1. […] by Rachel Rockwell, whose recent production of Ragtime (our review ★★★★) was a smash hit at Drury Lane last spring, knows her way around a musical – to put […]

  2. […] Book by Terrance McNally Music/Lyrics by Flaherty and Ahrens  Directed by Rachel Rockwell our review  |  photo […]

  3. […] Book by Terrance McNally Music/Lyrics by Flaherty and Ahrens  Directed by Rachel Rockwell our review  |  photo […]

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