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Thursday, 08 June 2017 02:27

Griffin's "Ragtime" Done Right

In 1996 Ragtime made its stage debut in Toronto and a year later it found itself making waves on Broadway. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Dotorow, the musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty, kept gaining momentum winning thirteen Tony Awards in 1998. Now, to close out its 2016-2017 season, Griffin Theatre Company reimagines the modern classic, thanks to the creative minds of director Scott Weinstein and Matt Deitchman, who adds new music orchestrations to the mix.


Taking place in New York City, Ragtime takes us back to the turn of the century, beginning in 1906, where three families who couldn’t be more different are followed – a young African American couple, a recently immigrated Jewish father and daughter and a privileged white family. As the story unfolds, the families come across one another, but in doing so, and along the way, we see the vast difference in treatment each receives as Ragtime touches on social justice, race relations and immigration. With plenty of parallels in today’s America, Ragtime serves as not just an entertaining musical, but also as a lesson to which we can all learn from.


Throughout the story we also meet a handful of influential historic figures including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini, J.P. Morgan and Booker T. Washington and are reminded of the impact each had made in a rapidly changing America.


Filled with many lively characters such as Coalhouse Walker JR (admirably played by Denzel Tsopnang) who brings "ragtime music" alive with his jazzy Harlem-styled piano playing and Tateh (played with great zest and sentiment by Jason Richards), the colorful Jewish immigrant who just wants to build a life for his daughter, this is a musical that constantly keeps one engaged.


Katherine Thomas makes quite an impression in her debut for Griffin Theatre as Coalhouse Walker’s love interest Sarah particularly shining in numbers “Your Daddy’s Son” and “President”. Laura McClain as Mother also impresses and moves the house during her rendition of “Back to Before”. Other standouts performances include Joe Capstick who undertakes a handful of roles including Houdini, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, a very funny Caitlin Collins as Eveyln Nesbit and an ensemble that truly delivers in every way.


Imaginatively staged at Den Theatre’s Main Theatre, the venue holds a new look as it is transformed into a theatre in the round, the audience surrounding the action. A ragtime band is present throughout the show, two pianos, a clarinet (Dan Hickey) and an occasional flute to giving us a newly-orchestrated chamber version behind the music direction of Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris, each of whom mans a piano throughout.


There is a reason that Ragtime has won so many awards and has been revived so often by numerous theatre companies. Simply put, the music is outstanding, it’s story is educational as it is entertaining and its message is timeless. Griffin Theatre does justice to this definitive production putting forth a commendable cast, an inviting set, polished music production and lighting and spot on costumes that throw the audience back in time to 1906.


Recommended.


Ragtime is being performed at Den Theatre’s Main Stage and has been extended through July 22nd. For this quality production tickets are a bargain at just $39. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.griffintheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Griffin Theatre Company is pleased to announce casting for its newly-orchestrated chamber version of the Tony Award-winning musical RAGTIME, reimagined by director Scott Weinstein with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman, music direction by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris and choreography by William Carlos Angulo. With 20 actors, two pianos and a wind instrument, RAGTIME features a book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty. RAGTIME will play May 27 – July 16, 2017 at The Den Theatre's Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago. Tickets for RAGTIME are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111. 

 

RAGTIME will feature Laura McClain as Mother, Denzel Tsopnang as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Jason Richards as Tateh, Katherine Thomas as Sarah, Ben Miller as The Little Boy, Autumn Hlava as The Little Girl, Matt Edmonds as Younger Brother, Frederick Harris as Booker T. Washington, Scott Allen Luke as Father, Neala Barron as Emma Goldman, Caitlin Collins as Evelyn Nesbit, Jonathan Schwart as Henry Ford, Joe Capstick as Harry Houdini, Larry Baldacci as Grandfather, Danielle Davis as Sarah’s Friend, Courtney Jones as Kathleen/Brigit and others, with an ensemble including Marcellus Burt, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely and Juwon Perry.

 

Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, RAGTIME is set at the dawn of a new century where the lives of three distinct American families from different backgrounds intersect in their search for the American dream. Part history lesson—part family saga, this stirring musical asks us think about racism, immigration, social justice, wage inequality and the role of women in society in a changing America. 

 

The production team for RAGTIME includes: William Boles (scenic design), Rachel Sypniewski (costume design), Alex Ridgers (lighting design), Stephen Ptacek (sound design), Catherine Allen (production manager), KZ Wilkerson (asst. director/asst. choreographer) and Katie Messmore (stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: RAGTIME

Book: Terrence McNally

Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens

Music: Stephen Flaherty

Director: Scott Weinstein

New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor: Matt Deitchman

Music Direction: Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris

Choreography: William Carlos Angulo.

Associate Director/Associate Choreographer: KZ Wilkerson

 

Cast: Larry Baldacci (Grandfather), Neala Barron (Emma Goldman), Marcellus Burt (Ensemble), Joe Capstick (Harry Houdini), Caitlin Collins (Evelyn Nesbit), Danielle Davis (Sarah’s Friend), Matt Edmonds (Younger Brother), Frederick Harris (Booker T. Washington), Autumn Hlava (The Little Girl), Courtney Jones (Kathleen/Brigit and others), Arielle Leverett (Ensemble), Alanna Lovely (Ensemble), Scott Allen Luke (Father), Laura McClain (Mother), Ben Miller (The Little Boy), Juwon Perry (Ensemble), Jason Richards (Tateh), Jonathan Schwart (Henry Ford), Katherine Thomas (Sarah) and Denzel Tsopnang (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.).

 

Location: The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago

Dates: Previews: Saturday, May 27 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, May 28 at 3 pm, Thursday, June 1 at 7:30 pm, Friday, June 2 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, June 3 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Thursday, June 8 – Sunday, July 16, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. 

Tickets: Previews $30. Regular run $39. Students, seniors & veterans $34 ($25 previews). Group discount are available for groups of ten or more. Tickets are currently available at www.griffintheatre.com or by calling (866) 811-4111.

 

About the Creative Team

 

Scott Weinstein (Director) previously directed Griffin’s Bat Boy: The Musical, Titanic and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Scott is the Co-Artistic Director of Buzz22 Chicago, where he most recently directed She Kills Monsters as part of Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage Rep Series. Other credits include Seussical and Bolcom’s Fairy Tales (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); A Doll’s House (Buzz22 Chicago); All American (Red Twist); Baristas (NY International Fringe Festival); Ampersand (Bloomington Playwrights Project); and the first full productions of Murder For Two (Adirondack Theatre Festival, Hangar Theatre, 42nd Street Moon). Scott is the recipient of a Berkshire Theatre Festival Directing Fellowship and a Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Observership. He is currently the Associate Director for the National Tour, Las Vegas and Chicago productions of Million Dollar Quartet. He is an associate member of the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and proud graduate of Northwestern University. Weinstein recently won a Jeff Award for his direction of the musical Rent for Theo Ubique Theatre.

 

Matt Deitchman (New Orchestrations/Music Supervisor) is a Chicago based actor, music director and composer and multi-instrumentalist originally from Allendale, New Jersey. Music credits include: Tug Of War, Road Show, Seussical, Shrek (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre); Adding Machine, Into the Woods (The Hypocrites); The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes (Mercury Theater); Hero (Asolo Repertory Theatre & Marriott Theatre); King & I, The Wizard Of Oz, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, For The Boys (Marriott Theatre); She Kills Monsters (Steppenwolf Garage-Original Score); Do Over (MIC - Original Music/Lyrics Co-Write); Spelling Bee (Griffin Theatre); Do I Hear a Waltz?, The Baker’s Wife, The Pajama Game (Music Theatre Company); and Found (American Music Theater Project). Matt graduated from the Northwestern University Theatre Department where he twice music directed, composed, and orchestrated for the annual Waa-Mu and was the recipient of the Peggy Dow and Frank Gamble Fitzpatrick Scholarships, as well as the prestigious Sarah Siddons Scholarship Award for excellence in Musical Theatre.

 

Jermaine Hill (Music Director) is thrilled to be working on his first production with Griffin Theatre Company. An actor, singer, music director, arranger/orchestrator, pianist and vocal coach originally from New York City, he recently music directed The Gefilte Fish Chronicles (Chicago Music Theatre Festival), Godspell and Bonnie and Clyde (Actors Training Center), and was music arranger for Barney: The Elf (The Other Theatre Company). Upcoming music directing credits include Madagascar (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) and two productions in the 2017-2018 Porchlight Music Theatre season. Performance highlights include Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall), the Aldeburgh Festival (U.K.), The Lost Colony (Manteo, N.C.), two seasons at the Capitol Theatre (Rome, N.Y.), and a commercial with the Onion Labs/NBC. He is currently an assistant professor of theatre at North Central College, where he coordinates the musical theatre and dance programs. He is a proud graduate of Ithaca College and the New England Conservatory of Music, and is proudly represented by Gray Talent Group. jermainehillmusic.com

 

Ellen Morris (Music Director) is a Chicagoland music director and teaching artist. Recent professional theater credits include Next to Normal, Dogfight (Boho Theatre), Adding Machine, (The Hypocrites), The Velveteen Rabbit (The Marriott Theatre) and Northanger Abbey (Lifeline Theatre). She is the resident music director and a voice teacher at the Wilmette Park District and also teaches at the Music Institute of Chicago and Northwestern. Ellen is a proud Northwestern graduate. 

 

The Griffin Theatre's 2016/2017 Premiere Season Sponsor is Brenda & James Grusecki with additional season sponsor support from Jeff Graves Realtor @properties, Kassie Davis & Bruce Beatus, Mary Grover, Randy & Lloyd Gussis, Claire Conley & Joan Mazzonelli.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is a Blue Star Theater and is proud to support our military enlisted and veterans. 

 

About Griffin Theatre Company

Established in 1988 and celebrating its 29th season, the mission of the Griffin Theatre Company is to create extraordinary and meaningful theatrical experiences for both children and adults by building bridges of understanding between generations that instill in its audience an appreciation of the performing arts. Through artistic collaboration the Griffin Theatre Company produces literary adaptations, original work and classic plays that challenge and inspire, with wit, style and compassion for the audience.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is the recipient of 105 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations for theater excellence in Chicago. The Griffin was the repeat winner of the 2016 Jeff Award for “Best Production of a Play” for London Wall having won the same award in 2015 for its production of Men Should Weep.

 

The Griffin Theatre Company is partially supported by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.

 

For additional information, visit www.griffintheatre.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

In 1931 nine African American teenagers were wrongly accused of raping two white women while aboard a freight train in Alabama. Worried they might get imprisoned for prostitution while traveling aboard the same train, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates quickly cried rape, diverting the attention rather to the handful of innocent boys. These nine boys became known as The Scottsboro Boys, growing more and more infamy as their many trials became public interest throughout the nation. Fighting through Southern angry mobs, an all-white jury and a trial that was hastened, the nine boys were quickly convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. As word spread of the prejudice demonstrated, Northerners eventually stepped in to see that such a miscarriage of justice be overturned, but that was just the beginning of a process clouded by an ugly and unjust preconception. The uphill fight was long and grueling and successes were slow in the making. The story, superbly performed by Porchlight Music Theatre, is remarkable, sad and hopeful.

Written by David Thompson and directed by Samuel G. Roberson, “The Scottsboro Boys” is a controversial musical, now making its debut in Chicago after Broadway and London runs, and is the last featuring the music and lyrics of John Kander and Fred Ebb, mostly known for their triumphant smash hits “Chicago” and “Cabaret”. The story, a compelling and emotional ride through the racist South is a painful lesson of our nation’s dark history and serves as a stark reminder that change for a better world must never be ignored as we move forward as a unified people.  

Throughout the musical’s duration, we see an image of a pained Rosa Parks (Cynthia Clarey) who plays witness to the injustices that take place. Though her stand wouldn’t take place until years later, we see the effect such a stirring account would have on approaching generations. Sad as this tragic story as such is, we feel hope for the future by the play’s end and a realization for the work that still needs to be done.

“This is a story that needs to be told,” says Mark J.P. Hood who stars as Mr. Tambo. 

The nearly all African American cast delivers several all-around brilliant performances, doling out tremendous vocal harmony efforts, powerful acting and dance numbers that are both inventive and energetic. Currently running at Stage 773, a mid-sized theatre, the only drawback is that it is easy to envision the musical preformed on a larger stage, sometimes routines appearing a bit crowded. Still, that’s a very small drawback, because the play’s director is able to utilize its given space to maximize this Broadway-sized show effectively, moving boxcars and all.    

Denzel Tsopnang and Mark J.P. Hood lead this gifted ensemble along with James Earl Jones II with commanding acting performances that would be hard to beat. The Scottsboro Boys is a real showcase for both Tsopnang and Hood, who flex their versatility while taking on a handful of roles. Veteran actor Larry Yondo, most recently known for his spot-on portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol”, also puts forth yet another admirable effort as The Interlocutor. With several beautiful vocal harmonies that sweep the house with robust sentiment, it is perhaps “Go Back Home”, a pivotal number that relates to those longing to find peace passionately led by Jones II, that will truly resonate with theatre goers long after the show. Though the vocal finesse is abundant throughout, fourteen-year-old Cameron Goode and Stephen Allen Jr. somehow find room to dazzle us even more. 

As jaw dropping as many of the numbers are in their performance, the audience often finds reluctance in their clapping, the weight of the subject matter almost seemingly inappropriate to applaud. But it is in these performances that the story is told so well. A handful of poignant casting twists take place as the white policemen and the woman accusers are played by African Americans. 

“The Scottsboro Boys” is a highly recommended theatre experience, both exceptional in its performance and its ever-important message. Wonderfully staged, acted and sung, this is a thoroughly entertaining production that will invoke much thought, inspire bravery and encourage action to be taken long afterwards. 

“The Scottsboro Boys” is being performed at Stage 773 through March 12th. For tickets and/or more show information click here.     

 

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