The studio album of Ragtime is now out, featuring the score -- and most of what will become the original cast -- of the show that opens in Toronto Dec. 8.
Based on the E.L. Doctorow novel about a disparate group of people whose lives unexpectedly intersect in early 20th century New York, the show has a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Once on This Island, Lucky Stiff, My Favorite Year), book by Terrence McNally (Kiss of the Spider Woman, Love! Valour! Compassion!) and directed by Chicago's Frank Galati (The Grapes of Wrath). The album, technically titled "The Songs of Ragtime, was released Nov. 12.
How good do you think the score is? How are the performances? How does this show fit into the history of Musical Theatre?
Critics will weigh in with their opinions shortly; here's a chance to add your opinion to theirs.
Write your review of the recording -- long or short -- and email it to Managing Editor Robert Viagas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Reviews will be posted as they come in. There may be some editing for space. Please include your town and state, and please note whether you'd like us to include your full e-mail address so you can receive responses. This is optional, of course.
Here are the results so far:
I recently purchased the new CD "Ragtime." It is very good and very different than "Once on this Island" and "My Favorite Year." I'm not completely sure I like the new Ahrens/Flaherty. There old work was incredibly vibrant and alive and "Ragtime" is so traditional. The tunes are very clever and witty. The story is extremely creative, due in a large part to E.L. Doctorow's novel. The lurics are poetic.
But, the standpoint, is the incredible cast and the voices. Marin Mazzie is beautiful but she seems to be stuck in "Passion." Nevertheless, listening to her sing is joyous. Her voice is so clear and simple and so gorgeous. Audra Ann McDonald, gets better and better. From "Carousel" to "Master Class" she has always acted well and sung beautifully. It is worth while to listen to her develop a character just through music.
Brian Stokes Mitchell, matured since "Kiss of the Spider Woman" has terrific tone quality. His singing is so bluesy sometimes that it gets in the way of the lyrics. Peter Friedman sings better than I imagined and really captures his character well. Mazzie's song, "Back to Before" is hauntingly truthful and equally as beautiful. Mitchell's "Make Them Hear You" is deeply emotional and poetic.
But, Lynette Perry and Jim Corti's evaluation of showbusiness in "The Show Biz" is the highlight of the disk. The sheer brilliance in the comedy and lyrics, as well as the simplicity of the tune, make this a number to rave about. All in all, on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest), "Songs from Ragtime" is an 8. Thank Marin Mazzie.
From Sandy Jason Ornstein (email@example.com), Coconut Creek, FL:
I have listened to the new musical Ragtime and I think it is brilliant!!! The cast is wonderful especially Audra McDonald as Sara, who I heard previously on the Carousel revival CD. The show has a great score. I think that Ragtime is going to be a great success even though I have not seen the show yet. (11/14/96)
From Russ Heller (RussHeller@aol.com): Rochester, NY:
I just bought the CD of "Songs from Ragtime" and listened to it. My first impression was that the songs are probably better off in the context of the musical, surrounded by Terrance McNally's dialogue.
I've read the book and reading the plot summary I noticed chunks they'd left out. My concern is that in turning it into a musical they may have been more concerned with keeping characters in the show and being faithful to the book than merely telling an intricate story.
Grey areas occur with Evelyn Nesbit's character, who in the book meets Tateh and his daughter on the Lower East Side and then Emma Goldman at a rally. Emma recognizes Evelyn (and Tateh flees New York) and takes her to her hotel room. There Evelyn meets Younger Brother and they begin an affair. This entire story line was cut out and I believe that the plot may have suffered for it. It just seems like the show may not be telling its own story.
In the musical it makes its point about the nation moving on and losing its innocence very well, but the songs are often too much about what is happening to the country and not enough about what is happening at that moment in the play. In many of the songs they sing about what they are feeling, but it is always done in the third person which may work well in the book (I'm sure it will if Terrence McNally wrote it) but it is far too detached from what i heard to be as stirring as hearing these emotions filling an individual with song ("As she filled and overwhelmed him with a fierce and sudden joy" is too impersonal when "He" is actually singing the song).
The songs are very good, many very lazily paced with the ragtime syncopation in the background, but many sound alike and none of them will function outside of the musical as a "singing song."
The performances are also good, but it sounds like the man playing Tateh has a disappearing accent. No one sings too much and the "lead" (Mother) played by Marin Mazzie has many filler songs, good but unspectacular (like many of the songs in..."Miss Saigon"). There is one song which sounds somewhat stirring ("He Wanted to Say") but it is clouded by narrative. I cringed when I heard "But all he said was..." because it actually sounded like the narrative was reading too much into the moment.
Having read the book I don't remember them thinking all of those things. Emma Goldman has the heaviest accent in the show, which surprised me, but she sings very well in it.
Audra McDonald sounds great like always but she isn't given enough to do. She has a solo (which they say was only added a little while before recording) which is very well done and a nice song, but the character isn't around for the second act (whoops, sorry to give that away) so they should have given her as much stage time as possible in the first. She spends a lot of the time backing up Coalhouse in his songs when she does sing, and he (Brian Stokes Mitchell) is very good but she is Audra McDonald and I'd have him backing her up, in character or not.
Evelyn Nesbit's song "Crime of the Century" and later her duet with Harry Houdini ("Show Biz" and boy does Houdini have an odd accent) are very Cole Porter-ish without having his big song qualities. "Show Biz" especially is a dime a dozen song and I hope it will have been cut by the time I see the show.
"Crime of the Century" doesn't mean anything to me without the Evelyn Nesbit storylines, so she comes on and sings a song that doesn't move the plot along (as far as I can see, but then I haven't seen the book. It wasn't mentioned in the plot outline either) and has enough giggling to be straight out of "Anything Goes." If I hear the word "Whee" used as a legitimate lyric in another musical I will listen to the radio again. "And it's the Crime of the Century,Crime of the Century, Making the World go 'Whee'!" and I almost skipped to the next song right there.
Without that storyline and with those songs the character of Evelyn Nesbit is expendable. She doesn't effect the lives of Tateh, the Little Girl, Emma Goldman or Younger Brother the way she does in the book and in the book there is no meeting between her and Houdini, she disappears for the rest of the book after she drops Younger Brother.
The mood of the music, however, is very nice. So before I make any more sweeping generalizations about the musical I will go see it in Toronto. Anything else? The man playing Father (Mark Jacoby) sounds a LOT like Mandy Patinkin in his first 2 songs. Coalhouse (BrianStokes Mitchell) sounds very pleasant on the recording. The main lack of the recording is an emotional punch, even that of a very high note or a scream on stage. There is nothing like Javert's last yell or the building music used expertly by Sondheim to create tension in "Assassins" or "Sweeny Todd" (remember "Epiphany"?) Everything is soft and flowing, like Ragtime.
The entire book is in narrative, so although showing you a great many things it is in many aspects as impersonal as the "third person solos" in much of the musical.
Well, I got lost somewhere in there too. Hope it makes some sense to you.