Ragtime Thrills at Actors’ Playhouse

By Ron Levitt

There may be a shortage of well-deserved superlatives due to Actors’ Playhouse regarding its latest new production – Ragtime. Suffice it to say it is its most ambitious musical – and finest production in the 17th season – (and in every regard) the most endearing show to please its growing audience in many years.

This new production shines in every possible way – outstanding direction (David Arisco), topnotch musical direction (David Nagy), unbelievable and stunning choreography (Ron Hutchins), A-One tech team, sound by Mitch Furman, lighting by Patrick Tennent, scenic design by Tim Bennett, costumes by Ellis Tillman) – and a marvelous cast of 40 to sing the opera-quality, Tony award-winning numbers.

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, which became a Broadway hit musical in 1998, Ragtime is a rarely done regional musical due to the huge casting requirement. The musical by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens with playwright Terrence McNally requires not only a large cast but opera-worthy voices and a dancing ensemble to tell the story of multi-cultural America in the early 1900s.

It is a story with both real life characters and those invented by Ragtime’s creators. Realism mixes well as Ragtime tells the story of three American families whose lives are intertwined.

This sweeping musical portrait of early 20th century America tells the powerful tale of a white, upper-middle class family, an African-American couple, and an Eastern European immigrant escaping to America with his daughter, as they all confront the timeless contradictions of wealth, poverty, freedom, prejudice, hope, and despair in pursuit of the American Dream. Unfolding through the fiery rhythms of Harlem and Tin Pan Alley, and the vibrant klezmer of the Lower East Side, this vivid and unforgettable Tony-winning score bursts onto the stage in what is the largest and most epic production ever staged at the Miracle Theatre.

The cast for Ragtime includes: Broadway actors Tally Sessions and Melissa Minyard, Reggie Whitehead, Ken Clement and Dominique Scott returning from National/International Tours, and Actors' Playhouse veterans Irene Adjan, Nick Duckart, Mark Sanders, Gabriel Zenone and George Schiavone. Miami natives – both with superb voices – Don Juan Seward II and Sarah Nicole Batts make their leading role debuts at Actors' Playhouse as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and the woman he loves, Sarah. The children's cast for Ragtime includes Miami HEAT National Anthem singing sensation Julia Dale, Athena Pacanins, Max Leifman and Julian Gorelick.

Ensemble members (an important element in this sweeping production) include Lauren Bell, Hannah Benitez, Dexter Carr, Anne Chamberlain, Diana D’Ambrosio, Marcus Davis, Mark Della Ventura, Sean Dorazio, Justen Fox-Hall, Deidra Grace, Noel Harris, Jr., Walter Kemp-Edwards, Nicole Kinzel, Michael Leyte-Vidal, Maha McCain, Cindy Pearce, Elizabeth Sackett, Kaylin Seckel, Johnathan Shepherd, Asher Makeba Timmons, Brian Varela and Ray Yanez.

The thrilling title song that opens the 2 hour 45 minute show introduces the invented and real-life characters and repeats itself throughout the show. You cannot help but to hum the title song as you leave the theatre.

‘Ragtime’ runs through February 22 with 8 p.m. performances Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. Call 305-444-9293 for information and tickets.

Ron Levitt, a freelance writer, is a former United Press Staff Correspondent and chairman of a public relations firm. He served as Florida’s Assistant Secretary of State. He currently is president of the South Florida International Press Club and secretary of the Society of Professional Journalists (South Florida chapter). He is a theatre critic and a Carbonell voter, Vice President of the Theatre League of South Florida and serves on the Board of WLRN Public radio/TV in Miami and on the Executive Committee of the University of Miami Citizens Board.

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