By Kenneth Jones
28 Feb 2003
Previews for the staging begin March 8 at the Piccadilly Theatre in the West End, with principals including Graham Bickley (as Tateh), Maria Friedman (as Mother), Rosalind James (as Sarah), American actor Kevyn Morrow (as Coalhouse), Matthew White (as Younger Brother) and Dave Willetts (as Father).
The new staging offers an on-stage orchestra and a fresh approach to the central prop of the show — the Model T car which figures prominently in the E.L. Doctorow novel on which the show is based. "The car is still important in the story except that its literal presence has been redefined and abstracted," Arima said.
The London Ragtime is expected to be much leaner, scenically, than the lavish 1998 Broadway production, which had all the bells and whistles. Like the Equity national tour that followed the Broadway run, the London production will be more actor driven and human.
"On all fronts, this is very much a new production of Ragtime," director Arima told Playbill On-Line in between rehearsals. "The physical production of the show has been boldly re-designed by our set and costume designer, Robert Jones, and our lighting designer, Howard Harrison."
Arima, a young Canadian director who has worked in the U.S. in recent years as Frank Galati's associate director on Ragtime and Seussical (and helmed the Equity and non-Equity post-Broadway tours) explained the London production: "I see Ragtime as a memory piece, and it is through the character of the Little Boy, Edgar, that the story is told — through both vivid and sometimes faded memories. Our stage world is an impressionistic and timeless psychological landscape of memory filled with misty and evocative glass panels, a ghostly scrim, a structured bridge and 18 timeless wooden chairs. We are literally inside the Little Boy's memory.
"The authors, as well, have returned to their original work and have made a number of adjustments to the script and score exclusive to the West End debut. The creative team's goal was to take a fresh look at every aspect of the show while retaining the strength of story and character. When we open Ragtime on the West End at the Piccadilly Theatre on March 19, we are premiering a production that has never been seen before."
Arima said the orchestra is on stage, "as they are part of the storytelling energy of the show." They will "live" upstage and on two levels.
Musical staging is by Candace Jennings, musical director is Chris Walker and musical supervisor is Sheilah Walker. Sound is by Peter Hylenski for Autograph.
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 play an initial run of 12 weeks in London, and is produced by 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.
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 (Audra McDonald). It played 1998 2000, and a lean Equity tour went out on the road around the time of the closing.
Director Arima staged the recent North Shore Music Theatre run of Ragtime (in Massachusetts, in the round). The show is popping up at major regional theatres in the U.S. Arima 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 repeats her duties in the West End). Though lean, the staging is not a concert version of the show. The staging boasts and orchestra of 20 and a cast of 30.
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.
William David Brohn's Tony-winning orchestrations will be heard.
Performances play 7:30 PM Monday-Saturday, 2:30 PM Wednesday and Saturday. Tickets range £20-£42.50. For information, call 020 7369 1744.