"Ragtime" First Preview – Some Random Thoughts…

– Sometimes the first preview performance can be more exciting than even an opening night. (If I get to the opening night of this one, I’ll let you know…) Especially with a revival of a popular title. I stood outside the Neil Simon Theatre last night until about 7:55 watching people gathering and entering the theatre. “I can’t wait.” “I’m so excited.” “This is supposed to be so good!” Those were some of the things I overheard being said by the excited theatregoers as they had their tickets scanned. The energy in the house was so palpable you could practically touch it.

– The house lights went down and the audience erupted into applause. We listened to the simple pre-show announcement. At that point the house lights came down entirely as the curtain rose on the entire company posed and poised on three tiers of Derek McLane’s set. The audience reaction was so intense that the show was stopped before it could even begin. After about 20 or 30 seconds, the actor playing Edgar stepped downstage and we were off.

– The opening number of Ragtime is one of the best ever written. It’s a mastery of musical theatre writing: establishing every major character without becoming lumbering, establishing the time and place as well as tone, and culminating in one of the most thrilling finishes known to man. All those high B naturals! Truly stunning, and its staging by director-choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge is a triumph.

– It’s the very first preview so I’m not going to go into performance analysis or comparisons with original cast members. I will say that the cast is superlative. As actors, as singers and as dancers. Superlative. I also think Christiane Noll is guaranteed a Tony nomination. That is all.

– A good number of the actors were making their Broadway debuts last evening. Among them were Donna Migliaccio as Emma Goldman, Quentin Earl Darrington as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Stephanie Umoh as Sarah. I do expect at least one or two to be considered for the Theatre World Award.

– Again, first preview and all: there were a few technical glitches with the lighting but nothing outrageous or distracting. However, it did seem like some numbers were missing verses. I couldn’t tell if it was editing or slip-ups, but not knowing was a minor distraction. The score to Ragtime remains one of the most elegant and stirring of the past twenty years.

– At the show’s finale, the audience was one giant weepy mess. The actors hold out the final note of “Wheels of a Dream.” In that instant between the note and the fall of the show curtain, the last thing seen by the cast onstage is the audience rising from their seats in an instant standing ovation – and not one of those where someone starts and people follow. This was genuine, heart-felt and wholly deserved.

– Rob Petkoff delivered the best save of the evening as the show curtain came down after the curtain calls.

– How lovely to hear a full orchestra essaying original orchestrations. When musical director James Moore finished conducting the exit music, the audience burst into applause that was just as vociferous as it had been for the cast onstage.

– I want to go back. And how.