Park Square Theatre’s “Ragtime,” the most ambitious show in its 36-year history, takes on the challenge of a musical behemoth and comes up with resounding success. This production features emotional songs, a wide range of characters, and acting talent to make both shine. In the end, “Ragtime” tells a rich story of the hardship and conquering love of America in 1906.
Three distinct groups make up the whirling plot of “Ragtime”: a wealthy white family, success-seeking immigrants, and downtrodden African-Americans, who introduce the jarringly joyous dance music that gives the show its name. “Ragtime” also uses historical figures to emphasise the characters’ plotlines, such as overlaying the immigrants’ struggle to break free from poverty with Harry Houdini, an immigrant himself, and his famous escapes from literal chains.
A musical with a scope as large as “Ragtime” could easily overwhelm Park Square’s small stage, but its simple set and tightly choreographed songs make use of every available inch. The interweaving plotlines barrel forward at breakneck pace, keeping audiences engaged without confusing them.
The music of “Ragtime,” which won a Tony Award for Best Score in 1998, encompasses many different musical styles, fitting the characters perfectly. Upbeat songs like “The Crime of the Century” bring comic relief, while Christina Baldwin’s rendition of “Back to Before,” sung by Mother, the wealthy family’s matriarch, adds to the show’s bittersweet moments. “Your Daddy’s Son,” sung by Sarah, a black single mother (Brittany Bradford,) stops the show with Bradford’s breahtaking belt.
While the show has several standout performances, the impeccable level of talent throughout the cast makes it difficult to pick a favorite. Sarah and Coalhouse, her pianist suitor (Harry Waters, Jr.,) build a relationship both convincing and heartbreaking. Dieter Bierbrauer, playing Tateh, a Latvian immigrant dedicated to providing his daughter with a comfortable life, takes viewers from anguish to hilarity in a matter of minutes, culminating with a delicate duet with Mother, “Our Children.”
“Ragtime” brings to life the spirit of 20th century America in beautiful detail, giving one of the most satisfying shows in recent Twin Cities history. Pulling off the production with the utmost precision, “Ragtime,” running until February 19, solidifies Park Square’s place in the top of theater entertainment.