I am so over Michael Riedel:
Last Friday, the New York Post published a pointlessly cruel column by Riedel, in which he practically snickered with glee over the closure this past weekend of the Ragtime revival. Ordinarily I'd include a link to the column, but I don't want to justify his mean-spirited screed with extra traffic.
Amid the snark, Riedel dismissively referred to the Ragtime cast as a bunch of "regional" performers. (As though that would be something to be ashamed of.) Reidel is, however, quite wrong on this score. As Ragtime star Bobby Steggart pointed out on Twitter, "Funny how people who call themselves reporters don't check their facts. I've lived and worked in New York for 10 years." What's more, Christiane Noll made her Broadway debut in 1997 with Jekyll & Hyde. And Ron Bohmer has been performing in New York since 1985.
I really don't understand Riedel's apparent need to kick a such a fine bunch of people when they're down. The producers of Ragtime took a gamble when they decided to move the critically acclaimed Kennedy Center production to Broadway's Neil Simon Theater, and unfortunately that gamble didn't pay off. So why does Riedel take so much joy from this? ("What is your damage, Heather?")
Whatever, I had a chance to see Ragtime again over the weekend, and while I still had some reservations, I remain an ardent admirer of the show, and of this particular production. What's more, I'll take Ragtime over Riedel's little pet, Fela, any day.
As I said in my initial review, this Ragtime didn't completely gel for me the first time I saw it. I found it very professional, but it seemed to be missing an emotional center. Seeing the show a second time, I had the same reaction, and the key problem was the end of act one, which failed to reach the shattering climax that the story deserves. The primary motor for the plot at this point is the destruction of Coalhouse's car, and the subsequent scenes should ideally build with a sense of righteous indignation, but here Coalhouse comes off as merely petty. This makes the finaletto seem anticlimactic.
The problem with this sequence would seem to stem from a combination of the writing, the direction, and the performance of Quentin Earl Darrington as Coalhouse. Composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens have certainly provided effective music here, particularly "'Til We Reach That Day," but the entire sequence happens so quickly, it's hard to really get a sense of the gravity of the proceedings. Librettist Terrence McNally shoulders some of the blame here, but director Marcia Milgrom Dodge also seems to have given this sequence short shrift, staging it in a way that robs it of the proper weight. And Darrington, while an admittedly talented performer, simply doesn't wrench the heart in quite the way the situation requires. The failure of this crucial sequence upsets the balance of the show, creating less interest in and sympathy for Coalhouse and Sarah, and leaving the other characters to pick up the slack.
I must admit Darrington became far more affecting at the very end of act 2, at which point the was a more palpable sense of fire in his performance, but this ultimately served to emphasize what he was missing throughout the rest of the show. Newcomer Stephanie Umoh, while quite beautiful and possessing a powerhouse of a voice, was even less effective as Sarah than the first time I saw the show. Her performance reflected surface grief and studied mannerisms; there really didn't seem to be anything behind her eyes to indicate she was genuinely feeling the role. (Full disclosure: Stephanie is a former student of mine, but I feel I owe it to my readers, and ultimately to Stephanie, not to pull any punches. I look forward to watching her grow as a performer.)
Unfortunately for Umoh and Darrington, but fortunately for the audience, the remainder of the principle cast was superlative. The marvelous Bobby Steggert had even more fire and intensity, some of which might have come from the indignation and grief of his last weekend as Younger Brother. Ron Bohmer exuded a childlike energy as Father, creating a remarkably sympathetic portrayal, while still portraying the man's flaws. And the delightful Christiane Noll remained a revelation as Mother. After so many years of sub-par material, Noll finally found a role commensurate with her talents. Noll was such a natural on stage, bringing such humor and nuance to her portrayal.Despite the flaws of this production, I love me some Ragtime. If you didn't have a chance to see it, fear not: the performance that I saw was filmed for the Lincoln Center archive. So you can see and judge for yourself whether Riedel was right in saying that the production had no business coming to Broadway. I think you'll find Missy Riedel was wrong.