Village Productions’ RAGTIME is Delightful!

by Walter Bender

Ben Fried (Tateh) and Ashley West (Little Girl) in a scene from Village Productions' RAGTIME, THE MUSICAL, running through June 20 in Pottstown, PA

Village Productions opened its newest offering, RAGTIME, THE MUSICAL, on June 3. The show is in the Tri-County Performing Arts Center, a newly-renovated downtown area of Pottstown. Tri-PAC is doing their part to re-energize this community. RAGTIME is a terrific addition to their efforts.

The theater in which the production takes place is a black-box theater, with seating on 3 sides (a traditional thrust arrangement.) The audience is greeted by a skeletal upright piano in the center area, a porch setting in the rear of the staging area, and huge projection screens left and right which have a slide show of period settings and old movie-theater slides. As the show begins, the projection screens are used to provide color and background for each of the scenes taking place on the stage floor.

RAGTIME is the story of the changes that took place in turn of the century America…the beginning of the workers creating unions, African Americans seeking their constitutional rights, immigrants trying to overcome their exploitation at the hands of the privileged, and women discovering that they are more than their traditional wife-mother roles. It focuses on 3 groups…a Caucasian family of privilege, a black musician, his girlfriend and child, and an immigrant man and the child he adopts. Their life experiences and their growth (good and bad) are the story.

Director Neal Newman and Music Director Deborah Stimson-Snow have assembled a terrific cast. The entire cast sounded beautiful and moved from scene to scene with precision. Mr. Newman uses the entire theater to showcase his vision, and it works very well. The orchestra, while hidden behind the back curtain, was an integral part of the production, with music playing underneath almost every scene.

The leads in this production were all terrific vocalists. Each feature solo was a very moving experience for the audience. Gary Giles, as the ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr., was a charismatic presence. His portrayal of Walker was first-rate. Julie Eurillo (Mother) and Ben Fried (Tateh) have amazing voices and were a pleasure to watch. They were joined by a huge cast, all of whom had beautiful voices. The production numbers were amazing, the solos all spot-on. There is not enough space in this review to acknowledge everyone I want to mention.

The show is also very beautiful to see. The costumes are all perfect for the period and for this cast. From the opening number (where many of the cast are dressed in white) to the “downtown” residents of Harlem, to the immigrants coming into Ellis Island, everyone looked perfect. Kudos to Costume designer Nicole Vitabile and her staff for making this a visual delight.

I sat in the thrust area during Act I, and was not able to .see a lot of the action. The show is staged mainly as a proscenium production. If you go to see the show I would advise sitting in the main seating area. And, even though the cast was wearing wireless microphones, I had trouble hearing them over the orchestra at times. I hope they are able to correct that going forward.

RAGTIME is well worth the trip to Pottstown. Congratulations to Village Productions and Tri-PAC for creating a beautiful re-creation of a time long ago. Take the time to go see this wonderful production.

by Terrance McNally, Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens
Directed by Neal Newman
Musical Direction by Deborah Stimson-Snow
June 3 – 20, 2010
Village Productions
Tri-County Performing Arts Center
245 E. High Street
Pottstown, PA 19464

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