REVIEWSTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

RAGTIME by Griffin Theatre

Book by Terrence McNally.

Music by Stephen Flaherty.

Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.

Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow.

Directed by Scott Weinstein.

Music Director by Jermaine Hill & Ellen Morris.

Choreographer by William Carlos Angula.

Produced by Griffin Theatre Company.

Uneven sound and staging problems mars ambitious production of Ragtime.

Director Scott Weinstein, who directed the fabulous Titanic for Griffin Theatre, had major sound and staging miscues that hurt his production of Ratime.  Perhaps it was were I was seated? Weinstein used a runway staging that split the audience into three sections. I was seated in the section nearest to the two pianos and the clarinet. The sound of the pianos was extremely loud drowning out much of the solo and group singing. Perhaps it was were I was seated? If so, then about a thrid of any audience will have problems hearing mush of this terrific score? Add the fact that many of  the sound cues (when to turn on the mics) were a few second late and that several key character’s mics were NEVER on throught the performance making their dialog and their songs impossible to hear. The Little Boy, Mother’s Younger Brother and  Sarah’s mics were never on.

When you can’t hear key dialogue and solo  singing that was overwhemlmed by the musicians, it becomes hard to enjoy such a fabulous musical! Frustration becomes overwhelming. Perhaps other reviewers, who were seated away from the musicians either could hear the singers or choose to ignore that problem but wouldn’t you want to know not to sit close to the pianos?

At the intermission, I asked by 27 year old guest (young ears) if her could hear those performers and he said that he could only hear about 40% of the dialogue and the songs. Pity since he realized the greatness of Ragtime which he was seeing for the first time.  Let me add that another reviewer sitting behind me and a Jeff Committee seated next to me agreed with me that the pianos were too loud and those characters never ha theird mics turned on. The other reviewer told me that he spoke to the Griffin folks about those problems during the intermission, I did not. Unfortunately, none of the  sound problems were corrected in act two. Too bad because this production was ambitious, innovative and spirited. Amazingly, that reviewer gave the show a rave!  I choose to honestly report what I experienced.

Here is what I know to be what Ragtime is about:

Featuring a Tony award winning book by Terrence McNally that weaves E.L. Doctorow’s novel into a cohesive story; Ragtime tells three stories—a Harlem musician, a wealthy New Rochelle Wasp family and a Latvian Jewish immigrant in a poignant expose of the timeless contradictions of wealth and poverty, freedom and prejudice, hope and despair, and love and hate in 1906 America.

Tony award winning score by Stephan Flaherty has a fine mixture of ragtime, vaudeville and early jazz together with lofty ballads, a touch of gospel, Eastern European Jewish flavors, a hint of Joplin and stirring anthems aptly moving the story along. Lynn Ahrens’ lyrics are meaningful and resonating.

I wonder why the above problems were not discovered in ‘tech’ or were not realized during opening night? Maybe, when the folks at Griffin Theatre read this, they’ll realize that there was a problem for folks in that section. I can hope. Once corrested, Ragtime will deliver a fine show. Since I had so much trouble with the constant sound problems, I can’t evaluate most performances. But Jason Richards’ work as Tateh was fabulous.

Somewhat Recommended.

Tom Williams.

Jeff Recommended.

At The Den Theatre’s heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee, Chicago, IL, call866-811-4111,, tickets $39, Thursdays thru saturdays at 7:30 pm, sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2hours, 40 minutes with intermission.