Ragtime Journeys On to London Premiere, Starting March 8; Kevyn Morrow is Coalhouse

News   Ragtime Journeys On to London Premiere, Starting March 8; Kevyn Morrow is Coalhouse Ragtime, the Tony Award-winning musical that some say had a too-short Broadway run starting in 1998 — the same season The Lion King premiered — will make its London debut beginning March 8 at the Piccadilly Theatre.

Opening for the musical by Terrence McNally (book), Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) and Stephen Flaherty (music) is March 19, and an initial run of 12 weeks has been announced by producers Sonia Friedman Productions, Waxman Williams Entertainment, Clear Channel Entertainment and TEG Productions. The Broadway run played 1998-2000, following a tryout in Toronto. It was the last show produced by Livent, the theatrical empire that toppled amid charges of financial wrongdoing in the U.S. and Canada.

Stafford Arima, the American-based Canadian director who was director Frank Galati's associate on Broadway's Ragtime, directs the London premiere, which is expected to be much scaled down from the elaborate Broadway staging. The original production at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts in New York was so costly to run, insiders said, that it shortened its life in New York, despite the Tony Awards for Best Book, Best Score, Best Orchestrations and Best Featured Actress. It played 1998-2000, and a lean Equity tour went out on the road around the time of the close.

Director Arima staged the recent North Shore Music Theatre run of Ragtime (in Massachusetts, in the round) and helmed the non-Equity national tour that followed the Broadway run of the musical. He also directed what was billed as the UK premiere of the show, a concert version seen last fall in Cardiff, Wales, with Maria Friedman in the role of Mother (she will repeat her duties in the West End).

The show is based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow that intertwines the fortunes of three families (rich white, Harlem black and immigrant Jewish) in and around New York circa 1906. Historical characters Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Emma Goldman and others figure into the tapestry.

This production is billed as "freshly conceived and designed for its West End premiere," with an orchestra of 20 and a cast of 30, including British musical stars Maria Friedman (Passion, Lady in the Dark, Sunday in the Park With George, The Witches of Eastwick, Chicago), Dave Willetts (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Someone Like You, Sweeney Todd), Graham Bickley (Miss Saigon, Sunset Boulevard, Les Misérables) and Broadway's Kevyn Morrow (Dreamgirls, A Chorus Line, Smokey Joe's Café) as Coalhouse Walker Jr. The London staging is expected to be more physically lean than other major productions of the show, but it is not a concert version, according to a source, despite the fact that last year's Cardiff run was the inspiration for this West End production.

Musical staging is by Candace Jennings. Robert Jones designs set and costumes, with lighting by Howard Harrison and sound by Peter Hylenski for Autograph.

William David Brohn's Tony-winning orchestrations will be heard. Musical director is Sheilah Walker. Musical supervisor is Chris Walker.

Performances play 7:30 PM Monday-Saturday, 2:30 PM Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets range £20-£42.50. For information, call 020 7369 1744.