Bucks County Herald

Susan S. Yeske: Theater review

Musical “Ragtime” a winner at Open Air Theatre

Sarai Cole as Sarah and Timothy Chastain as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in the Open Air Theatre production of Ragtime the Musical in Concert.

The Downtown Performing Arts Center opened its summer season last weekend with “Ragtime the Musical,” the first of six shows that will be performed at the Open Air Theatre in Washington Crossing State Park, Titusville, N.J.

The abbreviated season will be followed by the company’s move indoors to its new Music Mountain Theatre outside Lambertville, N.J., where they no longer will have to check the weather forecast before each production.

In the meantime, the show opened in cool temperatures with the always energetic DPAC cast bringing to life the characters in E.L. Doctorow’s award-winning novel, “Ragtime.”

Set in the early 20th century the story focuses on the confluence of three very different groups of New York residents: a wealthy white family from New Rochelle, a black couple and their newborn son, and a Latvian immigrant with a young daughter. While the storyline covers the turmoil of the time, the central theme of the need for acceptance resonates today.

DPAC favors musicals with lots of movement, but “Ragtime” is more song than dance, and the stars of the show are the many talented singers. Some familiar faces are found among the cast along with some exceptional newcomers.

Open Air Theatre regular Anna Hentz has found her ideal role as Mother, which allows her to display the power and quality of her lovely voice with songs such as “Goodbye My Love” and “Our Children.” Equally impressive is the singing of newcomer Sarai Cole, who portrays Sarah, a woman in love with ragtime piano player Coalhouse Walker Jr., played by DPAC favorite Tim Chastain.

Chastain is known to DPAC regulars for his roles as Donkey in “Shrek” and Sebastian in “The Little Mermaid.” In “Ragtime” his duet with Cole on “The Wheels of a Dream” is one of the highlights of the show.

Michael Moeller is terrific as the immigrant Tateh, which is his best performance for DPAC since he appeared as Albin in “La Cage aux Folles.” He commands the stage each time he appears, but somehow manages to not overwhelm the other actors.

Delightful in the role of Evelyn Nesbit is newcomer Katie Rochon, who has just the right amount of sparkle and shine to portray the famous showgirl and is an outstanding singer to boot.

Newcomer Matthew Robinson does a fine job as Younger Brother, displaying his excellent singing voice while moving his character from wallowing in uncertainty to a man of conviction.

DPAC favorites Don Hallcom and David Whiteman take on the roles of Father and Grandfather, while Deborah Heagen has just the right accent and fire as political activist Emma Goldman.

The ensemble, as always, does a fine job, while the period costumes are nicely done by Jordan Brennan.

“Ragtime” continues for one more weekend, 7:30 p.m. Friday to Sunday, and is followed by “Footloose.” For sheer entertainment value and the chance to hear talented singers for a modest price, you can’t beat DPAC and “Ragtime.”

For more information, visit downtownpac.com or 267-885-9857.



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