Troupers capture spirit of 'Ragtime'

The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel Community College's Moonlight Troupers brought to life the musical drama Ragtime, which adds a syncopated score to E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel chronicling the impact people of color and immigrants had on the upper-middle class in early 20th-century America.

This sweeping historical drama looks back to 1906 and can be a challenging show to produce. But it proved within the grasp of Moonlight Troupers director Barbara Marder.

Describing the show as involving "more notes than we have tackled before, the plot more stories and many characters," Marder focused on the strengths of her 44-member cast of students and seasoned actors. Marder is chairwoman of Anne Arundel Community College's performing arts department.

The Troupers captured the essence of this historical pageant by Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, starting with the rousing opening number when the upper-class gentry from New Rochelle, N.Y., first appeared, followed by European immigrants and the livelier people of color who communicated the rhythm of the "New Music."

The drama introduces us first to the successful and generic American businessman Father and his comfortable warm-hearted wife, Mother, whose family members (her Younger Brother and son, Little Boy, or Edgar) are touched by the social changes.

Mother becomes involved when she discovers a newborn baby in her backyard garden -- the son of black laundress Sarah, the girlfriend of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a Harlem musician who wants part of the American dream for Sarah and their infant.

Later, Mother meets Tateh, a poor immigrant from Eastern Europe and his frail young daughter, for whom he seeks opportunity. After Tateh has found success as a movie mogul, he again meets Mother and her son, Edgar.

Younger Brother -- initially a frivolous thrill-seeker -- takes up social causes after witnessing injustices. Along the way, he encounters celebrities Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini, Emma Goldman and J.P. Morgan.

Musical director Raymond Ascione and his talented 20-piece pit orchestra contributed to the success of Ragtime, as did technical director Rob Berry, who also did the scenography, skillfully employing rear projection of photo slides to set the scene.

Choreographer Kimberly Kandra also made major contributions, as did stage manager Norman Lee.

Walter League, a strong singer, portrayed Father with a mix of assurance in his status and confusion with the new social scene. An equally strong singer, Sheri Kuznicki as Mother invested her character with warmth and growing independence.

Ronnie Schronce played Younger Brother, proving again that he delivered the whole package -- acting, singing and dancing. Stephen Michael Deininger, as Tateh, commanded the stage with his acting and vocal skills. Christy Stouffer gave a powerful portrayal of real-life socialist labor organizer Emma Goldman.

Other actors also contributed to the success of the show, performed for two weekends from Nov. 9 to 18 at the Pascal Center for Performing Arts. Becki Placelle, recently seen as Annie Sullivan at 2nd Star Productions' The Miracle Worker, created a lively portrayal in Ragtime, in the cameo role of Evelyn Nesbit.

Experienced AACC graduate Jen Kohlhafer contributed her talents, as dance captain, onstage as Judge, and James Matthew, an AACC student and current Moonlight Troupers' president, provided laughs as crusty, lovable Grandfather.

AACC student Anwar Thomas played the major role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. with conviction, although his delivery of the songs "Wheels of a Dream" and "Make Them Hear You" fell below my expectations.

As Coalhouse's love interest, Bowie State student Geniece Albritton summoned a touching and courageous characterization of Sarah and sang with feeling.

Other noteworthy student actors included seventh-grader Solon Snider, who had reams of dialogue to master as Little Boy, and eighth-grader Jenny Judd, who perfectly fit the role of Little Girl, Tateh's nameless daughter. AACC student Brandon Hendrickson was outstanding in the Harry Houdini role.

With strong acting and skillful singing, this cast made Ragtime breathe with an exciting vitality.

This show compared favorably with three previous versions I've seen: one in pre-Broadway National Theatre tryout and later performances at Toby's Columbia and Downtown dinner theaters.

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