book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and music by Stephen Flaherty

Thank you to our wonderful audiences for coming out to see Ragtime: A Musical, an American classic. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

Ragtime at the Strand

We partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union to bring this powerful portrait of life in turn-of-the-century America, and its relevance to events happening today, to the Strand Theatre in Dorchester.

Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia.

Action packed and filled with amazing song and dance numbers, this production featured a cast of over 50 people and a full orchestra.

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Act One

This quintessential American experience at the turn of the 20th century begins with the introductions of three families from different worlds. The upper class Protestant family—Mother, Father, Mother’s Younger Brother, Grandfather, and the Little Boy, Edgar—represents what life was like in the rich, white neighborhoods of New Rochelle, NY. Their extremely sheltered lives were markedly different from those of the African-American and Eastern European Immigrant families headed by Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Tateh, respectively. While Tateh travels to America with his daughter hoping for a new and better life in the land of riches and the first American celebrities (each with their own story of upward or downward momentum), Sarah and the people of Harlem were filled with the joys of Coalhouse’s music. What he played was “Ragtime”.

Mother and her Family say goodbye to Father as he embarks on a journey to the North Pole. Father assures her that nothing will change in his absence but Mother hopes differently. (“Goodbye, My Love”) On board Admiral Peary’s ship, Father catches glimpse of the rag ship carrying Tateh and his Little Girl to America and sends them a hail across the water. (“Journey On”)

Meanwhile, Younger Brother takes his regular seat in the balcony of a theatre where Evelyn Nesbit, a vaudeville personality, takes the stage in an act about her husband, Harry K. Thaw, who murdered her lover, Stanford White. (“Crime of the Century”) After the show ends, Younger Brother confesses his love to Evelyn but she has no interest in his advances. Back at the Family’s home in New Rochelle, Mother unearths a newborn black baby in her garden. The police arrive with Sarah, the baby’s mother, for whom Mother takes responsibility. (“What Kind of Woman”)

At Ellis Island, the Immigrants arrive at their new home (“A Shtetl Iz Amereke”) and Tateh begins his new life as an artist making silhouettes but quickly finds the American Dream not so readily accessible. (“Success”) Meanwhile, the people of Harlem dance to Coalhouse’s music (“His Name Was Coalhouse”) and he sings of his lost love, Sarah. (“Gettin’ Ready Rag”) When he has a plan to get her back, Coalhouse goes to Henry Ford’s factory for a brand new Model T. (“Henry Ford”)

Back in New Rochelle, Mother and Edgar wait for the trolley to New York City and meet Tateh and the Little Girl (“Nothing Like the City”), Sarah sings to her son in the attic of their new home (“Your Daddy’s Son”), and Coalhouse arrives at the Family’s door on his quest to find and win back Sarah (“The Courtship”). Months later, Father returns home to find Coalhouse playing Ragtime in the Family’s parlor. He sings about the unexpected and unorthodox changes to his household and how unsure he is of his world. But Mother and Younger Brother have embraced the changes and immeasurably opened their hearts. (“New Music”) Coalhouse finally manages to persuade Sarah of his good intentions and takes her on a picnic. With their child in their arms, the pair sing about the promise this country offers their baby boy. (“Wheels of a Dream”)

With eyes wide open to the world, Younger Brother takes respite from the cold inside a rally held by the anarchist Emma Goldman and what he finds there changes his life forever. (“The Night That Goldman Spoke”) The rally quickly descends into a riot and mirrors a similar strike taking place in Lawrence, Massachusetts. Once the violence subsides, Tateh calms the Little Girl by showing her his book of moving silhouettes. The conductor of the train they are on offers to buy the book and Tateh sells, realizing this is the first step toward a better life. (“Gliding”)

Returning home, Coalhouse and Sarah are stopped by Will Conklin and his volunteer fire squad. Conklin demands a toll be paid in exchange for passage but Coalhouse will not yield to the injustice. The firemen destroy the Model T and roll it into a lake. (“The Trashing of the Car”) Incensed, Coalhouse seeks justice but the system has none to offer. (“Justice”) Coalhouse postpones his marriage to Sarah until his car is restored, which prompts her to seek justice on his behalf. She hears of a campaign rally in New Rochelle and goes in the hopes that the vice-presidential candidate will be able to help. (“President”) However, she is mistaken for a would-be assassin and beaten to death by the Secret Service. At her funeral, grief and anger overtake her mourners. Coalhouse and Younger Brother are moved to action against the perpetrators of the injustice but Mother and Tateh are convinced by Sarah’s Friend that they should have hope for a day when all people will have justice and equality. (“Till We Reach That Day”)
Act Two

Edgar watches Harry Houdini perform his act of great escape, climaxing with an explosion of smoke and fire. Edgar wakes up in bed. The Houdini show has been a dream. He yells for his mother. “Something bad is going to happen,” he says. “It’s Coalhouse.” (“Harry Houdini, Master Escapist”)

Sarah’s death has destroyed the man that Coalhouse once was and he vows to get justice on his own terms. (“Coalhouse’s Soliloquy”) He terrorizes New Rochelle, inflicting death and destroying property. There is a group within the black community, led by Booker T. Washington, who deplores Coalhouse’s actions but Coalhouse’s outrage still reaches the hearts and minds of many. Among them is Younger Brother, who storms out of the Family’s home to join the fight. (“Coalhouse Demands”)

Meanwhile, Mother, becoming increasingly irritated by Father’s actions, encourages Father to explain what is happening to his son. Instead, Father takes Edgar to a baseball game, expecting it to be like it was when he was in college but quickly finding it to be anything but. (“What a Game”) Father’s attempt at distraction is not enough to keep at bay the effects of Coalhouse’s demands and acts of violence. (“Fire in the City”)

As the outside world bears down on the Family, Father decides to move them all to Atlantic City where Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini please crowds and lift spirits. (“Atlantic City”) Upon their arrival, the Family meets Tateh who has made himself into a success as a prominent movie director. (“Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.”) Edgar and the Little Girl become fast friends, prompting the growth of a friendship between Mother and Tateh. Together they marvel in how simple and profound children’s lives are. (“Our Children”)

Back in Harlem, Younger Brother seeks out Coalhouse but is repeatedly turned away until Coalhouse is convinced that he can be trusted. As one of Coalhouse’s men leads Younger Brother to the Gang’s hideout, Coalhouse remembers his first encounter with Sarah. (“Sarah Brown Eyes”) Once Younger Brother arrives, he is unable to articulate why he wants to join the fight but instead tells Coalhouse why he will be useful. (“He Wanted to Say”)

Father informs Mother that he’s been summoned to New York to help reason with Coalhouse. Before he goes, he assures her that everything will soon return to the way it was but Mother has changed too much to allow that to happen. (“Back to Before”) Upon his arrival, Father discovers that Coalhouse and his men have taken over J.P. Morgan’s magnificent library in the heart of the city and are threatening to blow it up. Father suggests that Coalhouse may listen to Booker T. Washington, who finds Coalhouse unreachable until he mentions the legacy Coalhouse is leaving his son. Coalhouse and Washington work out a deal for peaceful surrender but Younger Brother is enraged by Coalhouse’s abandonment of their cause. (“Look What You’ve Done”)

Washington leaves and Father enters the Library as a hostage. The change in his life that he has been so forcefully trying to ignore finally manages to squeeze into his heart as Coalhouse convinces Younger Brother and his men that violence will not solve injustice. Coalhouse charges them all to change society through the power of their words and by telling their children their story. (“Make Them Hear You”) Profoundly affected by their leader, Younger Brother and the Gang leave the Morgan Library peacefully while Father tells Coalhouse about his son. Coalhouse thanks Father for his kindness and, as he leaves the Library, is shot and killed by the police.

Edgar takes on the task of fulfilling Coalhouse’s wishes that their story be told. He proclaims the Era of Ragtime to be over. The Company returns to tell us the conclusion of each of their own stories. And though their stories and fates vary, their hope for the future remains constant. (“Wheels of a Dream: Reprise”)