Ragtime – Original Broadway Cast 1998
In October of 1994, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens delivered a cassette containing four audition songs for the musicalization of the novel Ragtime to Garth Drabinsky, CEO of Livent Inc., and producer for the planned musical. The first song on the tape – which was well-produced and featured the voices of many recognizable Broadway musical actors – was an opening number and title song. Two things you need to know about Ahrens and Flaherty right off the bat: (1) as songwriters they ate astute dramatists, and (2) they write showstopping opening numbers. As in “We Dance” for their musical Once On This Island and “Twenty Million People” from their adaptation of My Favorite Year, this table-setter put the whole evening on course. Within a catchy rag-inspired melody, the team had aggressively seized upon a dramatic device invented by bookwriter Terrence McNally in the treatment that would serve as a blueprint for the show; McNally boldly brought the principal characters forward to narrate their own lives in the third person, and this became the basis for the song. By its end, you had been introduced in words and music to each character who would enter as the evening progressed. Next on the tape was a gospel number entitled Till We Reach That Day. And another slow rag called You Don’t Know for Evelyn Nesbit. She became America’s first sex symbol when her husband, Harry K. Thaw, shot and killed her lover, the famous architect, Stanford White. (The song was based on Doctorow’s lovemaking scene between Evelyn and Younger Brother, which would not make it into the show and so neither did this song.) The last song was a lilting and aching waltz for the Latvian immigrant, Tateh, to sing to his daughter at a troubled time. It was called Gliding and introduced one of Doctorow’s most important images – a flip-book of a girl skating, an invention of Tateh’s that would serendipitously alter his and his daughter’s destiny. The audition tape showed that Flaherty, who had demonstrated a gift for melody in his earlier shows, was well-schooled in and agile at the American musical styles (rag, cakewalk, waltz, march) of the turn-of-the-century era in which Ragtime was set. He somehow managed to make his songs sound both of the period and still contemporary. The tape also reconfirmed Ahrens’s talent for delving deeply into character within the tight construct of a tune, without ever going for the tricky rhyme that might attract attention but would never be true to her characters. Ahrens and Flaherty got the assignment and early in 1995 began a close collaboration with McNally, one in which the three writers created much of the show sitting in the same room together, alternately taking the lead in shaping the story . With a reading planned for August 1995, at Livent’s annual summer festival of work at York University, the songs seemed to come quickly. Every month or so, Garth and I would be invited to Ahrens’s Greenwich Village loft for a preview. At the very first of these memorable sessions, the songwriters performed a large chunk of material that included a song to introduce Tateh’s life on the Lower East Side of Manhattan entitled “Silhouette Man”; an instrumental to introduce Coalhouse Walker, a Harlem ragtime piano player, called “The Heavy-Hearted Rag”; and a number, in which Evelyn chronicles the Stanford White murder, called “The Girl On The Swing.” What these numbers have in common is that each of them is very good and none of them made it to the first performance of the show. What they did do, however, was highlight moments that needed to be musicalized. And so, after two more passes at other numbers, “Silhouette Man” yielded to a new Ellis Island-Lower East Side sequence called Success; the “Heavy-Hearted Rag” (too pessimistic for this point in the characters’ journey) became The Gettin’ Ready Rag; and Evelyn’s story was told in a new and funnier vaudeville turn called The Crime Of The Century. Success demonstrated Ahrens’s and Flaherty’s ability to suggest the lyricism and character development of a Rodgers and Hammerstein score, and at the same time utilize all we have learned since then about playing with time in a modern musical. During the heyday of the American musical, songs were folded into scenes; a scene would begin, a song would interrupt, then the scene would continue. But Ahrens and Flaherty folded scenes into songs so that a period of months or years could pass in the course of one number. That first group also included many songs that would remain a vital part of the score: a musicalization of Doctorow’s baseball outing for Father and his Little Boy called What A Game; a duet for Coalhouse and Sarah, the first draft of which – called “America’s Child” – landed in the show as Wheels Of A Dream; and a lovely slow rag originally written as “Serenading Sarah” that eventually became New Music. The Goodbye My Love/Journey On sequence, Nothing Like The City, What Kind Of Woman, Henry Ford and Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc. also came out of this initial rush of creativity. By the August reading, two-thirds of the score that would open the show was completed, though not always in its final form. Director Frank Galati had now joined the songwriters and McNally in the creative process. After the first read through of the script, Ahrens and Flaherty felt they had not provided enough material for the wonderful Audra McDonald, already a two-time Tony® winner in her mid-twenties, playing the part of Sarah. The next afternoon Frank, Garth and I were called to the rehearsal studio to hear Audra sing a song written overnight called Your Daddy’s Son. Between the first reading and the next, just prior to Christmas 1995, the songwriters focused mostly on filling holes in the story in Act II, writing an action sequence called Coalhouse Demands and adding an eleven o’clock number, a ballad about the doubts raised in Mother’s marriage, entitled Back To Before. In preparation for a fully-staged workshop in May of 1996, they added The Night That Goldman Spoke At Union Square, a second Lower East Side sequence that would eventually be discarded, and musicalized Mother and Father’s second act sojourn to Atlantic City. Graciela Daniele had signed on as choreographer and moments that once needed book and lyrics began to be told in dance. In July of 1996, we took the workshop cast into the Manta Eastern Sound studios in Toronto to record the concept album, Songs From Ragtime. The week before the session, Ahrens and Flaherty wrote a second act-vaudeville turn for Evelyn and Harry Houdini called “The Show Biz.” Upon hearing it, Garth wanted it on the album. It went right to orchestrator Bill Brohn and was recorded just a few days later. Rehearsals for the world premiere production in Toronto commenced in September 1996. And the writing continued. A song written early on for the climactic scene between Coalhouse and Booker T. Washington called Look What You’ve Done was removed from the show and replaced by Coalhouse’s anthem, Make Them Hear You. Then Look What You’ve Done was brought back in a revised form to precede the ballad. The Audra McDonald muse continued to inspire. Concerned that Sarah needed a presence in Act II, another overnight song appeared in our last few days in the rehearsal hall, a duet for her and Coalhouse entitled Sarah Brown Eyes. And during previews at the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts, “The Show Biz” was replaced with “I Have a Feeling.” Both the show and the score received the kind of reviews in Toronto that might make a creative team complacent. But Ahrens and Flaherty are known for their tenacious rewriting. For the second company, which would open at the Shubert Theater in Los Angeles in June, they wrote a replacement for “I Have A Feeling” called “Welcome To Vaudeville.” Then, finally realizing that the Evelyn and Houdini characters did not warrant their own number that late in the action, they replaced “Welcome To Vaudeville” with new solos for Evelyn and Harry within the structure of the big Atlantic City number. They put a new button on Evelyn’s song, Crime Of The Century. And, in order to strengthen two important characters, they wrote new bridges to both the Emma Goldman-Younger Brother numbers, “The Night That Goldman Spoke At Union Square” in Act I and “He Wanted To Say” in Act II, and made the lyrics more specific and personal. The morning after the Los Angeles opening, Laurie Winer wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “So rich and heart-rending you are likely to spend all three hours of its duration fighting back tears, Ragtime is great theater.” But even that wasn’t enough to put the writing process to bed. During previews of the show on the West Coast, John Mauceri, conductor of The Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, approached Flaherty and asked him to compose a symphonic Ragtime Suite based on his score to be performed by the eighty-two-piece orchestra in their gala Independence Day Weekend concert. Three months later, when rehearsals began for the Broadway opening at the New Ford Center for the Performing Arts on 42nd Street, Ahrens and Flaherty continued to tweak: they took one more pass at the Evelyn solo in Atlantic City, cut a few notes from Make Them Hear You, worked with McNally to rethink the scenes between Emma and Tateh folded into Success, and added a new bridge for Tateh in one of the very first numbers written, Gliding. On opening night on Broadway, January 18, 1998, Stephen Flaherty gave his writing partner, Lynn Ahrens, and a few other close friends, a white loose-leaf notebook containing original song sketches and notions as well as all the “trunk songs” cut from the show. It is inscribed, Ragtime is about America in transition, constantly bending, blending, adapting. The following pages are the story of our Ragtime, a musical in transition from the first notes through opening night.” – Marty Sell is Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs and Associate Producer for Livent, Inc.
The Little Boy: Alex Strange Father: Mark Jacoby Mother: Marin Mazzie Mother’s Younger Brother: Steven Sutcliffe Grandfather: Conrad McLaren Coalhouse Walker, Jr.: Brian Stokes Mitchell Sarah: Audra McDonald Booker T. Washington: Tommy Hollis Tateh: Peter Friedman The Little Girl: Lea Michele Harry Houdini: Jim Corti Houdini’s Mother: Anne L. Nathan J.P. Morgan: Mike O’Carroll Henry Ford: Larry Daggett Emma Goldman: Judy Kaye Evelyn Nesbit: Lynnette Perry Stanford White: Kevin Bogue Harry K. Thaw: Colton Green Admiral Peary: Rod Campbell Matthew Henson: Duane Martin Foster Judge: Mike O’Carroll Foreman: Conrad McLaren Reporter: Jeffery Kuhn Kathleen: Anne Kanengeiser Policeman: Larry Daggett Doctor: Bruce Winant Evil Man: Bruce Winant Policeman: Colton Green Sarah’s Friend: Vanessa Townsell-Crisp Trolley Conductor: Gordon Stanley Willie Conklin: David Mucci Fireman: Jeffrey Kuhn Brigit: Anne L. Nathan Conductor: Joe Locarro Town Hall Bureaucrat: Larry Daggett 2nd Bureaucrat: Anne Kanengeiser Clerk: Jeffrey Kuhn White Lawyer: Bruce Winant Black Lawyer: Duane Martin Foster Newsboys: Joe Langworth, Colton Green, Jeffrey Kuhn Reporters: Rod Campbell, Gordon Stanley Welfare Official: Anne Kanengeiser Baron’s Assistant: Anne L. Nathan Gang Member: Duane Martin Foster Harlem Pas De Deux: Monica L. Richards, Keith LaMelle Thomas Charles S. Whitman: Gordon Stanley Little Coalhouse: Michael Redd, Shane Rogers The Ensemble: Shaun Amyot, Darlene Bel Grayson, Kevin Bogue, Sondra M. Bonitto, Jamie Chandler-Toms, Ralph Deaton, Rodrick Dixon, Bernard Dotson, Donna Dunmire, Adam Dyer, Duane Martin Foster, Patty Goble, Colton Green, Elisa Heinsohn, Anne Kanengeiser, Jeffrey Kuhn, Joe Langworth, Joe Locarro, Anne L. Nathan, Panchali , Mimi Quillin, Monica L. Richards, Orgena Rose, Gordon Stanley, Angela Teek, Keith LaMelle Thomas, Allyson Tucker, Leon Williams, Bruce Winant Swings: Karen Andrew, John D. Baker, Albert Christmas, Dioni Michelle Collins, Mary Sharon Dziedzic, Valerie Hawkins, Kenol Hobson, Todd Thurston Baseball Fans: #1 – Bruce Winant, #2 – Joe Locarro, #3 – Larry Daggett, #4 – Kevin Bogue, #5 – Colton Green, #6 – Jeffrey Kuhn, #7 – Joe Langworth, #8 – David Mucci, #9 – Shaun Amyot, #10 (& the Umpire) – Gordon Stanley, #11 – Rod Campbell Coalhouse’s Men: Ralph Deaton, Rodrick Dixon, Bernard Dotson, Adam Dyer, Duane Martin Foster, Keith LaMelle Thomas, Leon Williams