From left: David Meglino, Quinlin Sandefer, Mary Gilbreath-Grim, Feleceia Benton and Markus Lloyd

Review: Ragtime | Uptown Players and Turtle Creek Chorale | Moody Performance Hall

New and Wonderful Music

The Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players come together for a staged concert of Ragtime that focuses on the music.

published Friday, February 8, 2013

You'll want to make it out for the Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players' one-weekend-only collaboration on a staged concert of the Tony-winning musical Ragtime at Dallas City Performance Hall, if for no other reason than it's a good guess that this will be the first of many co-productions between these two organizations. As was announced from the stage at Thursday's opening, Uptown is a theater group that likes music, and TCC is a music group that likes theater.

Matchmaker, matchmaker...match made.

Staged concerts of musicals is a great way to highlight the meat—the music—of a musical, as New York's Encores series has been doing for years, and Irving's Lyric Stage has done in recent years so that it can highlight a lesser-known work with a full orchestra. And although you might say they cut costs of a fully staged musical with minimal set design and reduced number of rehearsals, having a full orchestra probably absorbs some of that.

Either way, Ragtime, the 1996 musical with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and book by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, is a massive show. It weaves together the storylines of several fictional characters in turn-of-the-20th-century New York, alongside historical ones, all part of a rapidly changing society.

In this staging, directed by Michael Serrecchia and with musical direction by TCC artistic director Trey Jacobs, the main characters are in costume (by Michael Robinson), with the choir of more than 100, including a soprano and alto section (women chorus members were auditioned, as were the actors), dressed in black on risers upstage.

They sound splendid, especially in those soaring chorus numbers like "New Music" and "Til We Reach That Day," reminding you how stirring Flaherty's music is. For its Broadway premiere, the show picked up Tonys for the music and the orchestrations, among other awards, in 1998 (it was bested for Best Musical by The Lion King).

Among the actors playing historical characters, including Maranda Harrison as showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, Caroline Rivera as anarchist/feminist Emma Goldman and Clayton Younkin as Harry Houdini, Major Attaway stands out as the voice of the show, Booker T. Washington.

He's in great company. Mary Gilbreath Grim has played the role of Mother for Lyric Stage, and still knocks it out of the park on "Back to Before." Jonathan Bragg, who has worked at Lyric and Uptown, bings a big tenor and a controlled vibrato to the role of Father. We'll be hearing more from him, count on it. Feleceia Benton and Markus Lloyd get big applause, and deservedly so, as Sarah and Coalhouse on "Wheels of a Dream."

David Meglino's voice doesn't compare to any of those four for power, but the role of Latvian immigrant Tateh doesn't call for it; he hits the comedy marks. You have to assume that some of the minor speaking male roles were given to members of the Chorale; acting isn't their strong suit.

But acting isn't as much of a priority in a staging like this, with broad sweeps across the stage and less emphasis on stage pictures and personal connections. However, the reason this collaboration works, and why we're guessing that you'll see more of it, is that the theatrical director can pick some of the better musical theater performers in town. He did.

Acoustically, City Performance Hall is a good match for this kind of performance, too. Place your bets now for the title of the musical that Uptown and TCC will collaborate on in 2014. With this kind of success, how could they not do it again? Thanks For Reading


Ian Moore writes:
Friday, February 8 at 12:45AM

Thanks for the great write up, Mark!

Kevin Kalley writes:
Saturday, February 9 at 8:35AM

Spot on review of a wonderful production, thank you. Wish it were running for more than one weekend and hope for future collaborations. But I also hope they hold them elsewhere. I will NEVER return to this venue until they invest in some decent seating. What a shame for a brand new space to be SO VERY uncomfortable, I've been in better seats at outdoor stadiums.

David Morrill writes:
Saturday, February 9 at 11:33AM

I caught myself transfixed by the surperb performances; my hands frequently came to my mouth in "disbelief" of the quality of the performances I was seeing and in anticipation of more to come. Coalhouse's performance brought tears to my eyes several times as I imagined the hell he was living. And I hated Father - which I was supposed to. I agree with Kalley's comments on the seating. The city should move quickly to replace those abominations! I will be visiting my chriopractor on Monday and should send my bill to the theater!

Gene Ritchie writes:
Sunday, February 10 at 7:06PM

I found the lack of Turtle Creek Chorale members as main characters of the production to be confusing. Why were more Uptown Player actors cast as singers than TCC? I wonder who dropped the ball on warning the audience about the language used in the production. Several friends around me gasped everytime the "N" word was dropped

Elizabeth Rawson writes:
Sunday, February 10 at 12:44AM

I absolutely *loved* the show. I will admit that there were several times when I had to restrain tears. The cast in amazing, especially Edgar, Mother, Coalhouse, Sarah... Well, all of them!

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New and Wonderful Music
The Turtle Creek Chorale and Uptown Players come together for a staged concert of Ragtime that focuses on the music.
by Mark Lowry

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