It's high praise indeed from Milo Wakelin for Ragtime...
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Robert McWhir’s production of Ragtime is the best musical playing anywhere in London, right now. Epic, entertaining and fearlessly energetic, it’s the story of three families in early 20th century America at a time of social tension, musical innovation and really rather natty period fashion.
Can a white middle class family overcome their prejudices by taking in an abandoned African American baby? Will Coalhouse Walker, a proud and talented black musician, win social acceptance - and the heart of the woman he loves? Does Tateh, an Eastern European immigrant, eventually find a way to lift his beloved daughter out of poverty? Can escapologist and mystic Harry Houdini discover the meaning of the cryptic message ‘warn the Duke’? Does J.P. Morgan’s priceless library get blown to kingdom come?
Stirring stuff, but nobody would give a damn if the songs weren’t up to scratch, but Ragtime includes broadsides such as Till We Reach That Day, and the title song, alongside tearjerkers such as What Kind of Woman and Your Daddy’s Son. Louisa Lydell and Alexander Evans are outstanding as Mother and Father, Kurt Kansley is a powerful, passionate presence as Coalhouse, Rosalind James is heartbreaking as Sarah, and the rest of the show’s 23-strong cast, which includes John Barr as Tateh and Judith Paris as Emma Goldman, are superb.
Recreating one of Broadway’s biggest musicals (and following an award-winning 2003 West End production) takes some nerve, but to stage it in a venue that’s smaller than a barn, and only slightly larger than an attic, suggests either genius or insanity. The Landor Theatre may be a fringe venue, but this is an A-grade production, and the result of compressing West End-grade talent into such a small space multiplies rather than diminishes its impact. With almost two dozen actors on stage - plus musicians - experiencing some of the bigger numbers feels a bit like staring into a hair-dryer, if a hair-dryer could make you laugh, cheer - and maybe even cry a little.
Until 18 October, Landor Theatre, London SW9
You can buy tickets here.