“Patience grasshopper” was the phrase frequently used by Master Po to his student Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s television series “Kung Fu.”
In February 2020, I eagerly booked tickets for the “Ragtime” reunion concert, scheduled for April 27 of that year. The show was to feature all principal cast members of the Ahrens and Flaherty musical reunite, including Audra McDonald, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Peter Friedman, with Kelli O’Hara substituting for the late Marin Mazzie as Mother.
In what was unquestionably the longest pandemic-induced hiatuses for a Broadway show, the reunion concert of the cast of “Ragtime” – finally took place 35 months later, for one night only, Monday night. During that period, Covid-19 took the life of the show’s musical librettist, Terrance McNally and the audience of 1,700 washed their hands, donned face masks, and sprayed hand sanitizer liberally, all trying to be patient until the producers of the show would call them back to the Minskoff Theatre. I am not, for the record, a person known for displays of patience.
This quickly became the hottest ticket in town – yet none were available. Even Tony voters and critics were begging for the ducats, offering absurd sums of money for them.
“Ragtime” had its world premiere in Toronto at the Ford Theater on December 8, 1996, produced by the disgraced Canadian impresario Garth Drabinsky. The musical opened on Broadway at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts, now the Lyric Theatre, on January 18, 1998. It was the first production to open at the Ford Center.
Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, “Ragtime” features a score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and a book by Terrence McNally. All proceeds from the one-night only event, which was sold out already in 2020, will go to benefit the Actors Fund, which offers programs that include emergency financial assistance, workshops, support groups, and mental health resources.
Set in the early 20th century, Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the United States: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Brian Stokes Mitchell), a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother (Kelli O’Hara), the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh (Peter Friedman), a Jewish immigrant from Latvia. The show also incorporates historical figures such as Harry Houdini (Jim Corti), Evelyn Nesbit (Lynette Perry), Booker T. Washington (Eric Jordan Young), J. P. Morgan (Michael X. Martin), Henry Ford (Larry Daggett), Stanford White (David Hess), Harry Kendall Thaw (John D. Baker), Admiral Peary (also David Hess), Matthew Henson (Duane Martin Foster), and Emma Goldman (Judy Kaye).
After the 35-month wait, I thought there was no way this could live up to my expectations – and yet it did. The gorgeous singing voices of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald and the other principal players made the evening a delight.
The story is complex and emotional and the script does not hold back: the bigoted Fire Chief Willie Conklin (Mark Aldrich) does not hold back in using the word “nigger” repeatedly. All of the characters’ prejudices are as plain as the nose on their faces.
In a touching moment, the actress Lea Michele, who originated the role of Little Girl in “Ragtime,” paid tribute to cast members and crew who have “journeyed on” since the show’s opening night in 1998.
Most everyone (except for the actors playing the children, who were not in the original cast) was 25 years older but that wasn’t important. The appreciative audience applauded wildly and there were many show stoppers for what were unquestionably dazzling performances. The only sad part about the entire affair is that it is quite unlikely that we will see a 50th reunion.
Ragtime in Concert
Limited Engagement – March 27, 2023
200 West 45th Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
(Photo: Accura Media Group)