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Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

RagtimeChance Theater
Review by Bill Eadie


Dony Wright and Jennifer Talton
Photo by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio
Anaheim's Chance Theater made a name for itself in part by staging big shows in small spaces. They're doing the same this summer with a production of Ragtime lighting up the company's Cripe Stage through July 28.

Ragtime, with a book by Terrence McNally and a score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, is about as big as they come. The Broadway production featured a cast of 50, and the largest of the production numbers require a full-throated chorus.

The story is big as well. Based on E. L. Doctorow's best-selling novel, the plot follows three groups of people at the turn of the 20th century (Anglos, African Americans, and newly arrived immigrants), who either live in or find their way to New Rochelle, New York. The story features well-known figures of the period, including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Admiral Peary, and Emma Goldman. Just as ragtime ushered in a new era of popular music, so the new century ushered in new ways of thinking and the potential for new opportunities. But not for all, and not without struggle.

Director Casey Stangl has (mostly) solved the crowding problem by reducing the cast size and doubling some of the featured roles as ensemble members. Christopher Scott Murillo's set design provides some raised platforms and a stage-within-a-stage as playing spaces. Cast members can come and go quickly, even in some instances via a "hidden" passageway on stage right. Stage right is also where the largest sliding wooden door is located, allowing for bigger set pieces to move on and off. The design works well, except, I imagine, for audience members seated in front of the musicians, on stage left. Much of the action occurs between stage right and center stage.

The presentation itself is what musicians of the period might call "straight jazz." The storytelling is straightforward, and characters introduce themselves and then are easily identified by their costumes (well designed by Wendell Carmichael). The acting is indelible. Standouts in the large cast include Wyn Moreno as Tateh, a newcomer who makes good; Dony Wright as Ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker, Jr.; Jennifer Talton as Sarah, a woman who is taken in by the Mother (Rachel Oliveros Catalano) of the New Rochelle family; Bryce Hamilton as rabble rouser Emma Goldman; and Joseph Bricker as Mother's Younger Brother.

There were musical coordination and blend problems on opening night (Robyn Manion is the music director). The principals were all adjusting their singing performances as the evening progressed, but Ron Hastings did particularly nice work in "Journey On" and "Henry Ford;" Mr. Wright and Ms. Talton paired well in "Justice;" Ms. Oliveros Catalano and Mr. Moreno also paired well in "Our Children;" and Yunga Webb led a rousing version of "Till We Reach That Day" to close act one. I imagine that the blend and coordination problems I observed will correct themselves.

Choreographer Kelly Todd is one of the Chance Resident Artists whose work I always look forward to seeing. I recall fondly being wowed by spectacular dancing no more than arm's length from my face in Chance's production of West Side Story, among other highlights. Ragtime isn't much of a dance show, but Ms. Todd has designed choreography that can be, and is, executed accurately and with style by performers with a variety of dance backgrounds.

Just getting Ragtime on the Chance stage deserves applause. Producing it with many fine performances deserves even more applause.

Ragtime, through July 28, 2019, at Chance Theater, 5522 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm; and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are available by calling 888-455-4212 or by visiting www.ChanceTheater.com. There is ample free parking available adjacent to the theater.

Other cast members include: Sarah Pierce, Rebeka Hoblik, Glenn Koppel, Matt Takahashi, Sydney DeMaria, Jake Burnett, Brendan Knox, Jabriel Shelton, Kristin Yata, and Christianne Holly Santiago. Other design team members include: lighting designer Wesley Charles Chew, sound designer Ryan Brodkin, and props designer Danthi Tran.




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