Broadway awoke Jan. 19 to near-unanimous positive reviews for the new musical Ragtime with one major exception -- Ben Brantley's in the New York Times.
"Everybody's talking about Ben Brantley's review in the Times," said Roland Rodriquez of New Jersey, who was waiting at 9 AM with his friend to purchase tickets for the show at the box office of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. "I don't think it's going to matter what the Times says. I heard that the other New York critics -- including Jeffrey Lyons on Channel 4 -- loved the show."
David Patrick Stearns of USA Today wrote, "Broadway musicals often put America's dreams on stage, but usually we can only dream of a musical that brings as much realism and poetry to the picture as Ragtime (****out of four)."
Clive Barnes of the New York Post wrote: "Wow! The new musical Ragtime is not simply a colossal hit, it is a fantastic machine for a colossal hit, firing on all cylinders like gangbusters."
Fintan O'Toole of the Daily News said, "In the first few minutes of this mesmerizing musical, three different worlds occupy the stage. One is a rich, white society. The second is a vibrant, secretive black culture. And the third is a desperate, yearning immigrant throng, full of wild hope and quiet fear." But Brantley's critique said, "Sitting through this heavily publicized adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel about turn-of-the-century growing pains is like meeting someone on the basis of a promising lonely-hearts ad. It's not that your date doesn't match the adjectives from the glamourous self-description. But face to face, you discover there's just no chemistry. There is much to admire in Ragtime . . . But there is finally little to fall in love with."
To see what Playbill On-Line users thought of the musical, see Playbill On-Line's Message Board in the topic "Ragtime".
At 9 AM the day after Ragtime opened, there were only seven people lined up inside the box office of the Ford Center, which had just opened for business (an hour earlier than usual on "the morning after," which also happened to be Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a federal holiday). Two of the prospective ticket buyers had the New York Times with them and one was reading the review; three of the others were talking about the local reviews.
Rodriquez said, "If Ben Brantley doesn't like the show, that's his problem. I think the days when the New York Times had the power to make or break a show are over."