Theatregoers at the Dec. 27 evening show of Broadway's Ragtime fed the emotions of the story with enthusiastic, show-stopping applause for the final performances by original principals Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and Steven Sutcliffe.
The departure of McDonald (who won a Tony Award for the role of Sarah), Mitchell (who was nominated, as Coalhouse) and Sutcliffe (Younger Brother) makes way for the Dec. 29 first performances of LaChanze, Alton Fitzgerald White and Scott Carollo.
On Dec. 27, the crowd at Ragtime could not get enough of McDonald's rendition of "Your Daddy's Son" and Mitchell's "Make Them Hear You." Extended applause stopped the show, according to witnesses. At the bows, Mitchell gave a heartfelt speech.
The lauded McDonald and Mitchell have been with the Lynn Ahrens Stephen Flaherty-Terrence McNally musical for three years and many milestones: Early readings, a CD of songs from the show, the 1996 Toronto premiere and 1997 run, the January 1998 Broadway premiere, a cast recording and their Tony Award nominations in May 1998. Sutcliffe, too, had been with the show since the workshop and "Songs From 'Ragtime' " CD recording in summer 1996. He had previously been seen in the ensemble of the respected Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
The principals' contracts were up. The "newcomers" aren't really new to Ragtime, an anthem-filled musical drawn from E.L. Doctorow's acclaimed novel about American societal collisions circa 1904-1914. Carollo performed in the Los Angeles company the show; LaChanze's bright, big voice was heard in the L.A., Vancouver and Chicago companies; White played Coalhouse in the national tour of Ragtime, which closes up shop Jan. 3, 1999 in Seattle. Its next stop is Boston.
At a curtain speech one week before his own departure, Mitchell, a Ragtime veteran since the two early readings, one workshop and the 1996 premiere, praised fellow outgoing original cast members Marin Mazzie, Lea Michele, Peter Friedman and others on their last day, Dec. 20.
Remaining with the musical pageant about racism, social change and an awakening century will be Judy Kaye as Emma Goldman, Janine LaManna as Evelyn Nesbit, Mark Jacoby as Father and Tommy Hollis (Booker T. Washington).
The final Mazzie-Friedman-Michele performance -- which was also the final day of original ensemble members Anne Kanengeiser, Bruce Winant, Joe Langworth and Broadway "Grandfather" Conrad McLaren -- left room Dec. 22 for incoming Donna Bullock (as Mother), John Rubinstein (playing the immigrant, Tateh) and Elizabeth Lundberg and Dara Paige Bloomfield (who will alternate in the role of the Little Girl). Tom Toner also stepped in Dec. 22 as Grandfather.
Ensemble member Winant will play Amos Hart in the national tour (the Roxy company) of Chicago beginning Dec. 31, 1998 in Norfolk, VA.
Bullock has played in the Los Angeles, Vancouver and Chicago Ragtime companies; Rubinstein in Vancouver and L.A.
The Dec. 20 audience may have been aware of the milestone: Mazzie, who doesn't always get audience response after "What Kind of Woman" (because it is musically linked to "Success"), earned applause for it at her final show that Sunday.
Ragtime opened on Broadway Jan. 18, 1998. For tickets call (212) 307-4550.