Wednesday, February 18, 2009



Adapted from E.L. Doctorow's novel. Music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, book by Terrence McNally. Dir. Tom Wotujnik. Chor. Ryan Kasprzak. Astoria Performing Arts Center at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church. (CLOSED)

Edged out at the Tonys by Lion King and overshadowed by Livent's financial problems, the epic 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime roars back to NYC in this scrappy outer-borough production, and most critics are overjoyed to see it in such fine trim. They hail the inventive staging of Tom Wojtunik, the versatility of the cast, and the timeliness of its story of racial injustice and the American dream. Broadway Stars' Matthew Murray sounds the only sour note, complaining that the show's inherent flaws make it falter in a stripped-down setting.

CurtainUp A+
(Amy Krivohlavek) With its sumptuous score and riveting story, Ragtime...seemed tailor-made to become an instant classic when it opened on Broadway in 1998. So when The Lion King took home the Tony Award for Best Musical, hordes of critics and fans threw back their heads and roared. But not so fast: although The Lion King still anchors the Disney herd on Broadway eleven years later, the Astoria Performing Arts Center's superb revival of Ragtime is making a powerful case for the far-reaching longevity of this majestic, masterful musical. The timing couldn't be better to revisit Ragtime, and thanks to the limitless imagination of director (and new APAC artistic director) Tom Wojtunik, the show brings history right up under your nose...It seems fitting that Ragtime should appear again in New York not in a lavish, humdrum Broadway revival, but in an enormously ambitious and brilliantly executed new production that scales the show down to a very personal level...There's not a weak link in this solid group of performers, who interlock as neatly as the shelves on the set.

Talk Entertainment A+
(Oscar E Moore) A full scale, first class production...I strongly suggest you get to see it any way you can–by car or by subway. Even if you have to walk, it would be worth it. What an incredible achievement. It’s a triumph on every level.

Offoffonline A
(Doug Strassler) How can one scale down such a show, big in every way, around the budget and size of an Off-Off-Broadway theater? Such a question does not seem to have deterred Tom Wojtunik...Wojtunik makes such good use of his performance space in Astoria’s Good Shepherd United Methodist Church that one could easily think it was conceived for that exact space...Choreographer Ryan Kasprzak has the characters parade through the auditorium, moving throughout the audience (who are seated in five sections around a de facto thrust stage and also must face each other)...One of the elements that make Ragtime a rarity is that it is never simply one character’s musical...While Ragtime has its heavy moments, it is also full of uplift, thanks to a catalog of songs that rank at the very top of the modern canon...There is simply no weak link in this show under Wojtunik’s hand. And all of the pieces come together to make for a harrowing, unforgettable night of theater.

Backstage A-
(Leonard Jacobs) Ragtime's Achilles heel is the excessively episodic nature of its tale of monied WASPs, Jewish immigrants, and African Americans at the dawn of the 20th century. Fortunately, director Tom Wojtunik's revival, ingeniously staged in the transformed gym of a Queens church, makes what was distant and didactic on Broadway seem wonderfully intimate...If you listen, you can hear the errant flat note, and Wojtunik might remind his backstage crew that dresses coming off hangers can be heard if you're not careful. Listen closer, though, and you'll hear Ragtime reborn.

Broadway Stars D+
(Matthew Murray) The Terrence McNally–Lynn Ahrens–Stephen Flaherty show might be Great, it's not very good. So what chance do stripped-down productions, and/or those put together by artists of any but the highest professional caliber, have of making anything of this magnificent but messy musical?...The company does the most it could possibly do, and it's nowhere near enough...There's simply no other way to view this work than as an extravaganza, a shimmering banner of red-white-and-blue agitprop that charts nothing smaller than the collision of whites, blacks, and immigrants at the start of the 20th century, and requires breadth, bloat, and beauty just to stay aflutter. Anything less only serves to remind of the craftsmanship and the care that are missing at the work's most elemental levels...Exhausting to watch and listen to, Ragtime can be exciting—and, indeed, can only be exciting—when everything about it matches the writing's make-or-break outlook on musical theatre.

CurtainUp A+ 14; Talk Entertainment A+ 14; Offoffonline A 13; Backstage A- 12; Broadway Stars D+ 5; TOTAL: 58/5=11.6(A-)

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