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?