Monday, June 23, 2008

Ragtime! Go Mom!!

My mom has recently completed one of the biggest projects she has every undertaken - the props master/designer/head honcho - for Ragtime! at Weathervane Playhouse - and she did amazingly well. Not only was the play a hit (see review below), but she did an incredible job. Everyone she spoke to was surprised that this was only her first time as property master because she did such an incredible job. So congratulations, mom! I'm so, so, so proud of you!

Weathervane's 'Ragtime' a winner
Appealing score, vocal standouts enrich production depicting social upheaval
By Elaine Guregian
Beacon Journal arts and culture writer
Published on Sunday, Jun 08, 2008

Weathervane Community Playhouse's new production of "Ragtime, the Musical" exemplifies what community theater can be at its best. At opening night on Friday, the big (36-person) cast grabbed hold of the material and made a palpable connection with the audience.

The book, created by Terrence McNally, is an adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel. A compelling tale, it weaves together the lives of a prosperous white suburban New York City couple, an African-American couple from Harlem and father-and-daughter Jewish immigrants. Cameos by famous figures of the pre-World War I era, such as Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini and Emma Goldman, add historic texture to the story.

The term ''epic'' truly applies, and yet the story zipped by on Friday, propelled by director Terry Burgler's clear vision and his focused, energetic cast.

The appealing ragtime score (music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) holds the show's center. Musical director John Ebner sat at an electronic keyboard at stage right, alongside a woodwind player (Sarah Korb). Across the stage, pianist Jordan Cooper played an upright piano and Mike Forfia played standup bass. For the main character of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a black ragtime pianist whose idealism brings down his own life and others around him, a concert grand is wheeled on and off-stage.

Carrying through the music theme, some players produce instruments and play them in ensemble scenes. It's a cute idea that would be more effective if only the most proficient musicians actually played. Hearing these less-than-able performances (however brief) was a rare reminder on Friday that this was an Akron community event, not professional theater.

Semblances of city bridges span the stage to create a New York setting. Dark risers allow the performers to pop up at various levels onstage, and when the whole ensemble faces forward to sing, it makes an impact. Who will forget the sight of this crowd at a baseball game, punctuating screams for the team with syncopated spitting? The scenic design by Alan Scott Ferrall, properties design by Pamela Parks Costa, mood-enhancing lighting by Buddy Taylor, sound design by Dan Jankura and attractive period costumes by Marti Coles all work in sync with Burgler's direction.

Stephanie Newport (Mother), new to Weathervane, made a terrific debut with her luxurious voice. Subtly, Newport let you see her growing disgust with her closed-minded husband (Father, played with stern confidence by Russ Harris), who sees blacks as other and lesser.

As The Son, Brandon Kline had the reined-in bearing of a well-brought-up child at the turn of the 20th century. Jason Leupold's silky singing voice enhanced his portrayal of Mother's Younger Brother.

Speaking of voices, Natasha R. Williams' sultry performance made her a vocal standout as Sarah. As Coalhouse Walker Jr., the father of Sarah's illegitimate baby, Tom C. Barnes brought conviction to the role of an African-American who longs to be treated with dignity.

One of the most touching portrayals was by Greg Emanuelson as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who works tirelessly to support his little girl (sweetly played by Shea Lee).

Doctorow's story of social upheaval is lightened with humor. Rachel Fichter was a delight (''Whee!'' as she would say) as Evelyn Nesbit, the real-life chorus girl who was a mistress to architect Stanford White. Both moving and entertaining, Weathervane's "Ragtime" is a winner.

Elaine Guregian is the Beacon Journal's music critic. She can be reached at 330-996-3574 or .


Anonymous Jessie Price said...

YEAAAA Mama Costa :)

June 23, 2008 10:05 PM  
Blogger Jodi said...

Yeah, mom! I know a surprising number of people involved including the director- he was one of my acting teachers at KSU!

June 23, 2008 10:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Judy is in it and so is Christine Stewart!

It so rocks. I have been told it is the biggest production that Weathervane has ever done.

I don't know if it is the best but - it so rocks, it really does.
There is talent to spare, every one of them has a long list of credits except... Ben... he's 4.


June 23, 2008 11:06 PM  
Anonymous jill said...

Congrats to ur mama!!

June 24, 2008 9:29 AM  
Blogger Missy B said...

Congrats Mrs. C.

June 24, 2008 10:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See, this is why I pop in on your now world famous blog every once in a while, to be reminded of the great people and places of Akron that are a lot harder to find in what we call home now. Good times, those were. And your spinning feeling is disconcerting. You are a person that definitely deserves to find your happy & grounded place.

June 25, 2008 4:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I saw Jessi Gentile this weekend in Chicago and she said to pass on her hello and best wishes to you.

June 25, 2008 4:06 AM  

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