By Keri Jo Billick
Decatur Herald & Review Staff Writer
"Ragtime" is a musical production usually undertaken by a large playhouse, practically unheard of in smaller community shops. Theatre 7 and Director Michael J. Redlinger rose to the occasion to bring to the stage an incredible production even the most critical observer would consider magnificent.
The musical, based on E.L. Doctorow's book of the same name, originally opened on Broadway in January 1998. With music written by Stephen Flaherty, with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, it weaves together the stories of three classes of people as they struggle through the challenges and events of America in 1906.
Personalities of the era made appearances throughout the story, including Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, anarchist Emma Goldman and the girl on the swing, Evelyn Nesbit. The story, ripe with nostalgia and cultural history, is enough to entertain audiences by itself. When accompanied by the solid performance of the chorus and outstanding contributions from the lead players, the show becomes one the best Theatre 7 has produced in recent memory.
Ann Morrow (Mother) and Dick Borders (Father) deliver solid performances as the heads of the white, upper-class family. Jeff Tucker (Little Boy), Bill Keagle (Grandfather) and Chip Batko (Younger Brother) rounded out the household of the well-to-do.
Bryan Tank (Tateh) was an immigrant father of the nameless little girl played by Alyssa Philips. The fatherly compassion for his daughter shone through in the performance of Tank, who undergoes quite a transition before the show's end.
Stand-out performances by Tony D. Young (Coalhouse Walker Jr.) and Chelsea Waller (Sarah) were simply amazing. Their duet, "Wheels of a Dream," was powerful and beautiful experience not to be missed.
Dina Fryman's costume design held
the period of the piece very well, while visually separating the cultures portrayed.
Jerry Johnson's simple and effective set design was set off nicely by the innovative
use of projection screen. Using the scrim and computer simulated imagery, backgrounds
were able to move beyond traditional paintings to include motion and image montages
that added to the nostalgia of the story.