Arden Theatre Company presents the musical Ragtime

Although retired since 2014, I still relish opportunities to teach, write, and share opinions.

Philadelphia’s Arden Theatre Company is now presenting the hit 1998 Broadway musical Ragtime on their F. Otto Haas Stage.


Ragtime has a book by Terrence McNally, Music by Stephen Flaherty, and Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. It is based on the novel Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow. This production of Ragtime is directed by the Arden’s Producing Artistic Director Terrence J. Nolen.


Ragtime is a sweeping spectacle with a large cast which never fails to excite and inspire its audiences. Indeed, having three different production of the musical at three different houses in the last five years attests to its brilliance. The Bristol Riverside, then The Eagle in Hammonton, NJ, presented astonishing, excellent productions with much to their credit. Now, the Arden has again reconfigured its theatre to look much like a three-ring circus, where the action can take place in broad, open spaces.


The Arden has cast many favorite actors and actresses from past productions as well as a few new faces into a grand parade of “haves and have nots” from the first decades of the 20th century. As the years pass we see how the lives of several families intersect and interact with each other and with celebrities of the day, including J.P. Morgan, Henry Ford, and Harry Houdini. In the role of Mother, Kim Carson is the matriarch who upsets the upper-middle-class family and her inflexible husband, known as Father, played by a dashingly handsome Jim Hogan. Mr. Hogan is a great actor who just happens to also look smashing in his body-clinging trousers. Robi Hager is Younger Brother, who works at the family munitions firm. Colin Rivell as Little Boy, youngest child of both Father and Mother, is a phenomenon.  Rivell just doesn’t react to lines, he appears to live them as if they are happening for the first time, and he relishes every novelty or situation. Such great acting is rare in any actor, especially in one so young. Colin Rivell should be considered for a Barrymore Award for his portrayal. Scott Greer as the curmudgeonly, amusing Grandfather completes the family.  Terran Scott as Sarah, and Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker complete the couple destined for disaster, and their child, Coalhouse Walker III, is played by the young Donovan Bazemore.  Cooper Grodin plays Tateh, the poor immigrant who has come to America for a better life for both himself and his little girl, played with heart by Lily Lexer.  Costume designer Levonne Lindsay has scored a triumph with Mr. Grodin. As the raggedy Tateh, his exceptional physique is limned in the most eye-catching way possible, while his later reincarnation as a famous, successful film director has him superlatively clad in a luscious yellow suit which clings to every inch of his taut manliness. It’s enough to give audience members the vapors. Oh, Mr. Grodin! Exceptional contributions are also from Derrick Cobey as Booker T. Washington, Rachel Camp as Evelyn Nesbit, Alex Bechdel as Henry Ford, Jessica Johnson as Sarah’s Friend (delivering a hair-raising vocal climax on the death of Sarah), Skip Robinson as Harry Houdini, Mary Tuomanen as Emma Goldman, and Nicholas Pontrelli and Quinn Cason as Harlem Men and Coalhouse Followers.  As the man who leads every entrance and exit, while also being in costume for the entire show, often while playing piano, Jamison Foreman is phenomenal as the Conductor. Bravo! The audience acclaim for his amazing talents was duly earned. Many would say his was another Barrymore-worthy performance.          


For an unforgettable theatrical experience, look no further than this excellent production of Ragtime.


Ragtime is at the Arden Theatre Company, September 19 through October 20, 2019. For more information about this production, and the many subsequent productions this season, visit .

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