Mazzie, La Chanze in Ragtime Workshop

News   Mazzie, La Chanze in Ragtime Workshop
A third reading of the Broadway-bound musical Ragtime, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, is underway (May 1996) at Toronto's Joey and Toby Tannenbaum Opera Centre under the auspices of Livent Ltd.

Included in the cast of the reading are Marin Mazzie (Passion), La Chanze (Company), Judy Kaye, Lynette Perry and Gabriel Barre, among others.

The musical, with book by Terrence McNally, and score by Lynn Ehrens and Stephen Flaherty, has scheduled its opening for February 1997 (previews in January) at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto. A Broadway opening is scheduled in the 1997-98 season.

The musical weaves together several stories (some historical, some fictional) involving racial and class tensions early 20th century New York City.

Asked at a May 8 press conference whether he expected Ragtime would draw controversy, as Show Boat did. Drabinsky replied: "After seeing recent run throughs of the show, it is such an insightful piece of work which makes more sense now than in 1906. But the reality is still now. How polarizing that became. Ragtime will stand the test very comfortably."

Director Frank Galati said, "The audience can hear its own story told. It is told with pain and passion and controversy." Doctorow has said he did not like Milos Forman's 1981 film of Ragtime as the director did not maintain the elements in balance.

Doctorow said, "Ragtime as a musical was Garth Drabinsky's idea -- he had a passion for it. We worked out an arrangement and of all the people he has chosen, his choices have been impeccable. Mr. Terrence McNally is a brilliant theatrician. One hopes the director who did the film will come to see this."

Director Frank Galati, in speaking with the Ragtime workshop Company recently called up the images of "A newly ravaged Sarajevo, jolting us into the realization that our own family stories are playing out against a bloody backdrop of history. Our century, the century of our parents and grandparents is a century of fire, scorched years of ethnic cleansing, racial hatred, pogroms, lynchings, assassinations, the Klan, the Holocaust and the Bomb. We went to the moon, to the North Pole and to Hollywood, but we also went to the edge of the abyss."

When asked about his experience on the project so far, Galati said: "This has been the most thrilling collaborative experience in the theatre. It is inspiring beyond words to be a part of Terrence's reading of the work, its structure, build, climax and characters. Lyrically, it is a joy, and wonderful to work with Graciela Daniele, whose stagecraft is exceptional." Galati said, "Ragtime has evolved to a tight two acts, the first one hour and twenty minutes, and the second act at one hour. It is swiftly paced at this point, it may 'morph' itself. We are very happy to get this time frame in this sequence."

A powerhouse creative team is readying the show.

The book is by Terrence McNally, who won the 1995 Best Play Tony Award for Love! Valour! Compassion!, won a 1993 Tony for his libretto to Kiss of the Spider Woman, and is nominated for a 1996 Tony for his latest play, Master Class.

The show has music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. The team wrote Once on This Island and My Favorite Year for Broadway. Ahrens also wrote lyrics for the New York Paramount Theatre's annual production of A ChristmasCarol.

Two-time Tony Award winning director Frank Galati (The Grapes of Wrath) and acclaimed choreographer Graciela Daniele (The Most Happy Fella, Pirates of Penzance, the forthcoming Woody Allen film musical) provide direction and dance, respectively.

Rounding out the creative team are set designer Eugene Lee (Sweeney Todd, Show Boat) costume designer Santo Loquasto (Grand Hotel and the new National Ballet of Canada's production of The Nutcracker), lighting designers Jules Fisher (Angels in America, Victor/Victoria) and Peggy Eisenhauer.

The musical adaptation of Ragtime has been in development since Garth Drabinsky, Chairman and CEO of Livent, acquired worldwide theatrical rights in January 1994.

Drabinsky, who May 9 received the Order of Canada, said he considers Ragtime is "one of the richest, most dazzling and original works to emerge in the last two decades. The novel's theatrical possibilities are tremendously exciting, the story not only compelling and entertaining, but like our current musical hit Show Boat, Ragtime's human drama is set within a seismic time of upheaval in American history. Ragtime has something substantive to say about such topics as capitalism vs socialist ideology, industrialization, racism and the assimilation of the immigrant into WASP America."

Published by Random House in 1975, the novel Ragtime won the first National Book Critics Award for fiction and the Arts and Letters Award given by the American Academy and National Institute of Letters, and so became an international bestseller and instant classic. More than 7 million copies of the book have been sold around the world, translated into 30 foreign languages, as well as being taught in secondary schools, colleges and universities throughout Canada, the USA and Western Europe as part of the curriculum for numerous Contemporary American Literature and American Studies programs.

Ragtime's story unfolds during the cavalcade of American cultural, political and economic evolution extending from the beginning of the 20th Century to the advent of WWI, in settings such as Ellis Island, Broadway, Harlem, Penn Station, Atlantic City and Manhattan's Lower East Side. Including events such as Admiral Peary's expedition to the North Pole, the sinking of the Lusitania, the birth of American labor unions, the development of assembly-line technology, and the dawn of motion picture and the automotive industries, Ragtime is populated with the legendary figures of Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, J.P.Morgan, Emma Goldman, Stanford White and Evelyn Nesbit.

The heart of Ragtime is however the story of three remarkable families - one upper-middle class, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant; one socialist immigrant Jewish; and one Harlem African-American. Their lives become dramatically intertwined with the historical characters and events of the period.

Frank Galati, Director, describes Ragtime as "an enormously complicated historical, political, social and artistic panorama that will enable audiences to examine the origins of the 20th century from the perspective of the last decade of the 20th Century."

Ragtime follows the lives of three families during the years 1906 to 1942, whose lives intersect with notable figures, including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan, Admiral Peary, and Booker T. Washington.


Tateh (Peter Friedman) is a Jewish immigrant who wants to become a motion picture magnate, something already familiar to Drabinsky, whose life followed a similar route. Tateh has a Little Girl (Afton Eddy).

Coalhouse Walker (Brian Stokes Mitchell) is a Harlem black who works as a stevedore to pay for his music lessons and gives us all a lesson in Ragtime. His emotionally charged love interest is Sarah (LaChanze).

Mother (Marin Mazzie), Father (Timothy Jerome), and Little Boy (Nicholas Rose) share in the tides of history, as Mother and Father share a bondage very different from that of other families. Wealthy, this family of privilege is bound by duty. Mother accepts her duty while Father, goes with Admiral Peary to conquer the North Pole.

It is only 40 years after emancipation in New York City. It has been and is a time of transition, social and political upheaval. Thirty million European immigrants have entered America, half of them coming through Ellis Island.

E.L. Doctorow, the author of Ragtime, bemused, watches the "Gettin Ready Rag" for the first time performed in front of an audience. Terrence McNally's eyes shine as he smiles with delight listening to the cool syncopation of the music and the high energy of the performers. He has written the book for Ragtime. Director Frank Galati is nodding his head to the beat.

Coalhouse Walker looks at his new son and sings to him:

"I see his face, I hear his heartbeat
I look in those eyes how wise they seem…
Well when he is old enough, I will show him America
and we will ride one the Wheels of a Dream

Sarah joins in:

It's more than promises, it must be true
A country that lets a man like me
Own a car, share a life with you.
Our son will ride on the Wheels of a Dream."

Mother sings "Back To Before" at the window:
Standing on the brink of a new life,
We can never go 'Back To Before'
I used to have my feet so firmly planted
But I can never go back to the way
Things were before.

Not afraid to be strong, she shoulders her destiny. Mother (Marin Mazzie) builds the intensity and passion in this song with her inimitable style.

Galati said, "The music of Ragtime is new music, born of pain, but full of joy that melts the icy heart. Art is the tie that binds. Ragtime is the musical about three families destroyed, broken apart, and then mended -- bound together to make one new family. Sarah and Coalhouse are both slain. A tidal wave of hate engulfs them. Coalhouse's despair and wrath is born of Sarah's murder but also of the law's indifference. He turns to murder himself, and is destroyed.

"Tateh is an artist. The wheels of his dream are spools of movie film, and his vision too, is born of grief and despair. He has moved his broken home and heart to America, and here he finds what Uri Herscher called a metropolis of ghettos. By the agency of his art, Tateh transforms himself into the Baron Ashkenazy. In the language of the street he 'does a Houdini'. While Father drowns at sea, Mother's duty is to embrace the children of these three families broken apart and formed into one. And now, in a dream we all share, the Little Boy, Tateh's Little Girl and Little Coalhouse are truly brothers and sister."

The rest of the workshop production cast include Younger Brother (Steven Sutcliffe), Emma Goldman (Judy Kaye), Evelyn Nesbit (Lynette Perry), Henry Ford (Michael Fletcher), Grandfather (Conrad McLaren), J. P. Morgan (Michael McCarty, Willie Conklin (David Mucci), Booker T. Washington (Michael Lofton), and Harry Houdini (Gabriel Barre).

The Male Ensemble consists of Falconer Abraham, Stephen Lee Anderson, Gregory Atkinson, Cadet Bastine, Kevin Bogue, Roland Hayes, Jeffrey Kuhn, Joe Langworth, Michael McElroy, William Paul Michaels, Igor Portnoi, Keith Lamelle, William Solo and Leon Williams. The Female Ensemble includes Darlene Bel Grayson, Maria Calabrese, Jamie Chandler-Torns, Lovena Fox, Monica McSwain, Julain Molnar, Charlotte Moore, Paula Newsome, Michelle Robinson, Malinda Shaffer-Farrington, Rebecca Spencer and Allyson Tucker.

They already work tightly together with an ensemble "feel" and I hope they all make it to the opening of Ragtime in January 1997 at the Ford Centre For The Performing Arts.

Ragtime was published by Random House in 1975 and is one of the best-selling works by E.L. Doctorow. Ragtime has been published in 30 languages, and has sold 7 million copies besides receiving the National Book Critics Circle Award. In all Doctorow has received the National Book Award, the Pen Faulkner Award, the Arts and Letters Award, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and two National Book Critics Circle Awards. Since 1982, he has served as Glucksman Professor of American and English Letters at New York University. Edgar Doctorow has written seven other novels and is working on his ninth.

Three dozen of Canada and Broadway's finest musical performers participated in a reading of the first-draft script and musical score at York University in Toronto in August, 1995. In December, 1995, a second draft reading was presented at York University.

Sets and costumes for the 1997 production will be built in Canada. The cast will be a mix of U.S. and Canadian talent, but no names have yet been announced, according to a Livent spokesperson. Brent Carver, from Kiss of the Spider Woman had been touted as being in the show, but he will not be joining the production after all.

The musical had its first reading at York University in Ontario in August. "Emboldened by the response" said Livent Senior Vice President Norman Zagier, a second, invitation-only reading was held Dec. 16 and 17 in Toronto.

The production holds several ironies for American musical theatre. The show has an American story, American creators, and a logo (unveiled in the Nov. 20-26 Variety) that shows the Statue of Liberty's torch wrapped in the American flag. The show is being produced by Canadians in Canada.

Drabinsky adds: "Ragtime's commentary on the human condition is timeless. Through the story takes place during the century's first two decades, its substance is as timely as ever today as we prepare to enter the next millennium."

In development with Livent is a musical adaptation of the 1957 film noir classic The Sweet Smell of Success, with a score by Cy Coleman; and the original musical I Love a Parade to be directed by Harold Prince with a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy), and a score by the acclaimed young composer, Jason Robert Brown. Livent has also acquired the rights to Pal Joey, the Rodgers and Hart musical masterpiece. Fundamental to this restoration of Pal Joey, will be both a new book by Terrence McNally and Livent's acquisition of the rights to the entire Rogers and Hart catalogue.

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