In the musical Ragtime, characters inspired by the E.L. Doctorow novel travel from New York City to "Boston and environs," and on Jan. 21 the national tour of the show itself officially opens (after one preview) at Boston's Colonial Theatre.
Continuing in principal or featured roles in the musical about social collisions in America, circa 1904-15, are Lawrence Hamilton as Coalhouse, Michael Rupert as Tateh, Rebecca Eichenberger as Mother, Darlesia Cearcy as Sarah and Cris Groenendaal as Father. Ragtime continues to Mar. 28.
The Colonial is an appropriate setting for turn-of-century musical: The 1,680-seat theatre was built in 1900.
Most of the cast has been together since the April 1998 opening of the tour in Washington, D.C., and all but Hamilton were on tour when producer Livent Inc. announced it would prematurely shut down the tour in November 1998 due to financial problems plaguing the organization.
Pace Theatrical Group quickly stepped in, put up money and guaranteed its next two dates, at Pace-run houses, in Seattle (Dec. 2, 1998-Jan. 3, 1999) and Boston. Principal artists' contracts end with the last Boston performance, according to performers in the show, and Pace has yet to officially announce what its plans are for a Ragtime future. Insiders suggest Pace has invested enough money to stay with it and will put the production on hiatus, trim it physically and scale back the company of 55 plus for a re-launch in summer 1999.
Previously announced bookings, like San Francisco in the spring, are not certain. No specific dates have been announced for any market beyond Boston.
Georgiana Young, vice president of business development and corporate communications for Pace Theatrical Group, told Playbill On-Line Jan. 19 that Pace is interested in a future for the Ragtime tour but said she had been out of the office for a month and did not yet have an update. She did not confirm any plans for a smaller-scale production of the tour.
In 1998, while on tour, the Act Two opening, a magic-act featuring character Harry Houdini, was scaled back to make it less costly and less time-consuming to ship and install. Act Two now begins with “Coalhouse’s Soliloquy.”
Those close to Ragtime, a multiple 1998 Tony Award-winner for its book by Terrence McNally and rag-influenced score by lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, suggest the show is richly human enough that it will survive -- some say, thrive -- with a more human, intimate scale.
Critics have alternately praised the show for its sweep, and called it physically cold and impersonal. Some theatregoers used to spectacle and wanting a bang for their buck, have grumbled about a possible scale-back on internet message boards.
During the Seattle run of Ragtime, Alton Fitzgerald White left the company as Coalhouse Walker Jr. to take over the role on Broadway, beginning Dec. 29, 1998 (replacing original Brian Stokes Mitchell). Lawrence Hamilton took over in Seattle.
Boston press rep David Balsom said once the Colonial run was confirmed in December by Pace (and once the Livent bankruptcy court OK'd Pace's involvement), ticket sales flowed as if "floodgates were open," and half the Boston run was sold out by Christmas. No advance sale figure was immediately available. A producer knowledgeable about the market noted that a positive review could assure Ragtime is a smash there.
For information about the Boston run of Ragtime at the Colonial Theatre, call (617) 931-ARTS.