Ivey Awards honor best in local theater for 2017

By CHRIS HEWITT |  Pioneer Press

PUBLISHED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am | UPDATED: September 27, 2017 at 10:19 am

 Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Theater Latte Da’s “Ragtime” earned the Ivey for Overall Excellence. (Dan Norman/Theater Latte Da)

Actor Meghan Kreidler went home with two Ivey Awards at ceremonies Monday night.

Kreidler, currently on stage in Theater Latte Da’s “Man of La Mancha,” received the Emerging Artist award and was honored as a member of the Ensemble winner, “Vietgone.” The cast of that Mixed Blood Theatre musical drama also included Sun Mee Chomet, David Huynh, Flordelino Lagundino and Sherwin Resurreccion. (Chomet and Resurreccion were also double-winners Monday night, receiving acting trophies for “The Two Kids That Blow S— Up” at Theater Mu.)

The trophy for Lifetime Achievement was given to Ten Thousand Things founder Michelle Hensley, who has announced that the current season will be her last as the innovative company’s artistic director.

The annual Ivey winners are selected by a somewhat mysterious panel of 100 theater-makers and fans. Their other choices were:

Overall Excellence: “Ragtime,” Theater Latte Da

Production Design and Execution: “Six Degrees of Separation,” Theater Latte Da, awarded to Abbee Warmboe, Barry Browning, Sean Healey, Kate Sutton-Johnson, Bethany Reinfeld and Alice Fredrickson

Concept and Execution: “Safe at Home,” Mixed Blood

Actor: Nilaja Sun, “Pike St.,” Pillsbury House Theatre; Steven Epp, “Fiddler on the Roof,” Ten Thousand Things

Director: Noel Raymond, “The Children,” Pillsbury House Theatre

Emotional Impact: “Wit,” Artistry

REVIEW: Still Resonant Ragtime

Bev WolfeTwin Cities Arts Reader

October 3, 2016

Is musical theatre relevant or mere entertainment? The musical Ragtime deals with immigration, economic disparity, and the killing of unarmed blacks by police. Although Ragtime is a period drama set in the United States near the start of the 20th century, the issues at its heart are unfortunately very much alive today.

Ragtime is an adaptation of the 1975 novel of the same name by E.I. Doctotrow; its 1998 Broadway debut garnered nominations for 13 Tony awards and 4 Tony Award wins.  The original Broadway show had a cast of 30, but Director Peter Rothstein smoothly uses a slimmer ensemble cast to convey Theatre Latte Da’s rendition of this musical, which opens Theatre Latté Da’s new season in its newly purchased home, the Ritz Theatre in Northeast Minneapolis.

The needless murders by police of the two main black characters give the show a very chilling relevance today. The central storylines follow three families: a well-to do traditional couple with a mother, father and son; a ragtime black musician by the name of Coalhouse Walker and Sarah, the mother of his newborn son; and a newly arrived impoverished Jewish immigrant by the name of Tateh and his young daughter. The characters are connected by association with several better known names of the era including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgen, Emma Goldman, Admiral Perry, and Booker T. Washington. A central character, Mother, interacts with all three families.

Director Rothstein’s casting of a very enthusiastic and talented ensemble elevates this production. Chief among these are Britta Ollmann as the Mother character. Ollmann successfully conveys a woman who, after her husband leaves for a trip to the North Pole with Admiral Perry, finds her opportunity to break out of her traditional role to become independent, assertive, and compassionate. Her passionate rendition of the ballad “Back to Before,” is one of the highlights of the show.

David L. Murray, Jr. as Coalhouse charmingly plays an idealistic young man who is proud of his ability to buy a brand new Model T Ford and who truly seeks to reform his tomcatting days to win back Sara. Traci Allen Shannon as Sarah creates another of the show’s highlights with her heartfelt song “Your Daddy’s Son.” Sasha Andreev as Tateh conveys a nobleness in his efforts to bring his daughter a better life. Debra Berger as Emma Goldman brings-out the real fire of Goldman’s socialistic preaching to the people in the lower-depths of American society. The entire ensemble stands out in both the prologue and epilogue renditions of the title song “Ragtime.”

Scenic designer Michael Hoover uses sparse set pieces such as two moveable scaffold stairs, a piano and the use of two existing stage doors to effectively create multiple locations. Lighting designer Mary Shabatura’s incredible lighting works well with the sparse set to lift the scenes outside of the three warehouse type walls that create the stage.

I have seen four outstanding shows so far this year; Ragtime and Theatre Latté Da’s earlier C are two of these four. This production is not only very entertaining, its glaring relevance to today’s America reaches to the very heart.

History repeats: 'Ragtime' is a timely classic with modern urgency

Jay GablerCity Pages

September 28, 2016

Ragtime is about “a nation on the cusp of great change,” states Peter Rothstein, director of Theater Latté Da’s new production in a program note. Seen today, though, Ragtime makes American history feel less epochal than cyclical. From racist cops to frightened immigrants, the musical’s vision of American life in the early 1900s is painfully resonant with the reality we face over a century later.

For an epic historical pageant encompassing figures both factual and fictional, this musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel has proven surprisingly amenable to chamber-sized productions. Ten Thousand Things staged an acclaimed, intimate take on the show in 2005, and now Latté Da is presenting an only moderately less minimal Ragtime as the company’s first Ritz Theater production since it purchased the northeast Minneapolis landmark.

In the 20 years since its premiere, Ragtime — written by Terrence McNally, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens — has started to look increasingly like a contemporary classic. McNally preserves Doctorow’s sweeping tone while reining in his sprawling structure, sharpening the focus on the black pianist Coalhouse Walker (David L. Murray Jr.) and the affluent white Mother (Britta Ollmann) as twin moral centers around which the story revolves.

Rothstein’s precisely choreographed production honors that concentration on character, with a Michael Hoover scenic design that’s so subtly integrated with the Ritz’s unpolished interior that sometimes the set hardly seems to exist at all. Two rolling stairs carry actors in and out of twin doors positioned in the middle of the stage’s rear wall, with a piano doubling as Coalhouse’s shiny new Ford. A band, led by music director Denise Prosek, is completely hidden.

The story weaves several plot threads together, in a manner that could seem contrived if this stellar cast didn’t feel so organically connected. The child of Coalhouse and his lover Sarah (Traci Allen Shannon, luminous) ends up being cared for by Mother, whose husband (Daniel S. Hines) has just taken off on a polar expedition. Meanwhile, a Jewish immigrant of artistic bent (Sasha Andreev) is struggling to provide for his daughter (Georgia Blando).

Rothstein’s production has enough of the ol’ razzle-dazzle to carry off showboating numbers like Coalhouse’s “Gettin’ Ready Rag” and the darkly comedic “Crime of the Century” (with Emily Jansen, as Evelyn Nesbit, glibly singing on a swing). Then, however, the show clears the decks for poignant ballads that soar — notably the climactic “Back to Before” and “Make Them Hear You,” which Ollmann and Murray, respectively, perform with strong clear voices and rock-steady sureness of purpose.

It’s hard to imagine a more apt show to open Theater Latté Da’s new season. Highly entertaining and deeply moving, this Ragtime makes a case not only for itself but for musical theater as a means of communion and as a catalyst for action. Just in case you didn’t get the message, there are voter registration forms in the lobby.

A powerful 'Ragtime' at the Ritz; Graywolf author is a MacArthur Fellow

Pamela EspelandMinnPost

September 27, 2016

 

Theater Latté Da makes more magic with less than almost any theater we know. We first saw this in 2005, when director Peter Rothstein staged Puccini’s “La Bohème” in the tiny Loring Playhouse. “Bohème” is a warhorse opera, with a large cast and chorus, 80-piece orchestra, grand costumes and sets. Rothstein pared down the cast and used a five-piece band: piano, accordion, guitar, violin and woodwinds. People who saw it still rave about it.

And now there’s “Ragtime,” a lollapalooza of a musical written for a large cast and chorus, dancers and orchestra. At the Ritz Theater, Latté Da’s new home in northeast Minneapolis, Rothstein tells the sweeping, epic story with 14 actors and four musicians. Michael Hoover’s sets are minimalist: gray walls and floors, three doors, a curtain, some crates, a few sticks of furniture and a pair of rolling metal ladders. There are rarely more than two props on stage at the same time. The rolling ladders become, among other things, gangways on ships and stands at a baseball game. A grand piano on wheels doubles as a Model T. Don’t worry, it works.

Everything about this “Ragtime” works, including the timing. The musical is based on the award-winning book by E.L. Doctorow, published in 1975 and set in the years 1902-1912. In 18 scenes and nearly 40 songs, this historical pageant tells the stories of three groups: upper-class white Americans, African-Americans and Eastern European immigrants.

Except for the costumes (by Trevor Bowen, who last week won the Emerging Artist Award at the Iveys), some of the events, and the famous characters who thread through the story – anarchist Emma Goldman, Harry Houdini, showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington – “Ragtime” could be set in 2016. It’s way more contemporary than it should be. In our world right now, and our country, and our political climate, it’s impossible to experience it solely as a period piece. Not when police officers shout “She’s got a gun!” before beating a black character. Or when wealthy white people sing of a once-ideal world where “there were no Negroes and there were no immigrants.” Or when they dream that “everything will be like it was – the same as it was before, when we were happy.”

The prosperous white family are Mother (Britta Ollmann), Father (Daniel S. Hines), Younger Brother (Riley McNutt) and Little Boy (Soren Thayne Miller). The African-Americans are Sarah, a poor washerwoman (Traci Allen Shannon), and the father of her child, ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. (David L. Murray Jr.). The immigrants are Jewish-Latvian artist Tateh (Sasha Andreev) and his daughter, Little Girl (Georgia Blando). The cast are all terrific singers and utterly convincing in their roles, performing with clarity and passion.

As Mother, Ollmann is the story’s moral center, the character with the most accepting, color- and class-blind heart. Her performance of “Back to Before” toward the end of Act II is tremendous and shattering. So is Murray’s “Make Them Hear You,” the cry that echoes today in “Black Lives Matter.” That one caused a lot of sniffling in the theater. Have tissue handy for the end of Act I, for “Wheels of a Dream,” for the epilogue. Latté Da should leave the lights down just a few moments longer at the end, for the audience’s sake and the cast’s, because everyone needs time to pull themselves together.

This is such a powerful show. By peeling away the pomp and excess of a Broadway production, Rothstein gets to the core of “Ragtime,” a tale of family, humanity, and more hope than we probably deserve.

“Ragtime” continues at the Ritz Theater through Oct. 23. FMI and tickets ($35-$48, student rush $20, rush $24).

"Ragtime" by Theater Latte Da at the Ritz Theater

Jill SchaferCherry and Spoon

September 26, 2016

Theater Latte Da is opening their 19th season (and their first season in their new home, the Ritz Theater in NE Minneapolis, where they have been in residence for a few years but only recently purchased) with a Tony-winning musical written nearly 20 years ago, set 110 years in the past, that is perhaps the most timely and relevant musical for the America we're living in now.Ragtime (book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) deals with the two biggest social issues of the day - anti-immigrant sentiment and racism (not to mention issues of class and gender). Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime explores the tension that arose from the clash of cultures in New York City in the early 20th Century. When viewed through the lens of the present time, in which black men are repeatedly killed for no reason other than the color of their skin, the clothing they're wearing, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and businesses in our own small towns put up signs that say "no Muslims allowed," this already powerful story, beautifully told through words, characters, and music, becomes even more meaningful and important. Director Peter Rothstein and his incomparable team of actors, singers, musicians, and designers have brought this story to life in a way that's aesthetically pleasing, highly entertaining and engaging, and most importantly, clearly delineates the parallels with our own world. Ragtime tells the story of three families - an upper class White family, an African American family, and an immigrant family. The three families' lives become intertwined with each other, as well as with several historical events and figures, such as anarchist Emma Goldmanmagician Harry Houdini, and chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit. The hero of our story is Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a ragtime piano player in love with a poor servant named Sarah. Coalhouse's journey takes a drastic turn when he's faced with discrimination and tragedy. Sarah lives with the seemingly perfect well-to-do family consisting of a father, a mother, and a son, as well as mother's younger brother and father. Curiously, these characters (with the exception of the son, Edgar) don't have names, so that they could be anyone or everyone. Mother keeps the home fires burning while Father explores the world, and Younger Brother is on a journey all his own, always looking for something to cling to and finding it in unfortunate places (or persons). Finally, at the center of our third family is a poor immigrant trying to make a better life for his daughter. Tateh's path crosses with Mother's several times; in fact all of the characters in this story are connected somehow, and what each does affects the others.*

Several moments in the show clearly spoke to me about today's world, and sound like they could be heard on the news on any day. Struggling to find a way to support his daughter and facing opposition at every turn, Tateh cries out, "I'm not 'you people,' I'm Tateh!" Ragtime shows us that immigrants are not "others," they're people, most of whom are coming here to make a better life for their children, the same reason that all of our ancestors came to America. After his car is vandalized simply because he dared to drive into a white neighborhood, Coalhouse demands, "I'm not some fool, I'm not their n***er, I will have what's fairly owed me," which sounds very much like the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. All Coalhouse is asking for is to be seen as a worthy human being, to be fairly treated, and to live his life with his family unencumbered by discrimination and violence.

As usual with Theater Latte Da, the show is perfectly cast. Just 14 actors play all the roles, which is a fairly small number for a show this epic (in listening to the score again and reading about the show, it seems there are a few minor characters that were cut or combined to make the small cast feasible). Many of the actors also double as chorus members, and while there are a few moments of "What's Tateh doing in this scene? Why is Emma Goldman there?" you quickly learn to let that go and see them as players in the story. The small cast really works to accentuate the intimacy of this epic story. Highlights in the cast include, well, everyone:

  • David L. Murray, Jr.** is a welcome new addition to the Twin Cities theater scene (thank you Yellow Tree Theatre!), and one we can hopefully keep for a while. Firstly he has a gorgeous voice, and secondly he imbues Coalhouse with all of the strength, rage, desperation, and humanity required for the character.
  • Traci Allen Shannon** is a lovely Sarah, making the audience understand and empathize with the choices she makes.
  • Britta Ollmann sings with a voice so clear and pure it cuts right to the soul and makes you feel all of the sadness and joy that Mother feels.
  • Sasha Andreev brought tears to my eyes every time he opened his mouth, so passionate and believable is he as the immigrant Tateh, desperate and determined to care for his daughter. Perhaps being himself an immigrant who came to this country as a child with his parents brings a first-hand knowledge and authenticity to his portrayal.
  • All of the supporting players are truly wonderful too, including Andre Shoals as the wise and distinguished Booker T. Washington; James Ramlet as the grumpy Grandfather; Benjamin Dutcher pulling double duty as the heroic Houdini and the despicable fire fighter who destroys Coalhouse's car; Daniel S. Hines, almost making the absent and unyielding Father sympathetic; Emily Jansen as Evelyn Nesbit, "the girl on the swing;" Riley McNutt, so good as the lost and searching Younger Brother that I wish he had a bigger role; and Debra Berger, whose Emma Goldman is so convincing I'd follow her to the picket lines!
  • Finally, the smallest members of the cast are the most charming. Soren Thayne Miller as Edgar bravely opens the show alone on stage, and is adorably precocious throughout the show ("warn the Duke!"). Georgia Blando is a sweetheart as Tateh's thoughtful and sad daughter, and Julia Fé Foster Warder creates some beautiful lines as the silhouetted skater.

Ragtime is one of my favorite musical theater recordings to listen to, featuring that distinct and rhythmic ragtime sound, as well as sweeping anthems. The offstage band directed by Denise Prosek sounds much richer than it should with just five members. I didn't miss a thing not having brass or strings. And the cast sounds gorgeous, individually and particularly in harmony.

The staging and every element of design is just stunning. Latte Da continues to make good use of its new home at the Ritz, fitting the shows into the gorgeous bones of the old theater rather than trying to cover them up. For this show, scenic designer Michael Hoover has created a false back wall on the otherwise open and empty stage, a wall that so closely matches the actual walls of the theater, with the exposed brick and mottled paint, that it looks like it's always been there (and I'm still not entirely convinced it hasn't). A floor-level door and two elevated doors, accessed by moving staircases of bare metal, are used for entrances and exits, and a well-placed piece of furniture or two is all that is needed to set the scene. The all important piano has a dual purpose, also representing Coalhouse's car as he sits on top of it. Not only is this an economic use of set pieces, but it somehow makes the destruction of the car more devastating as the piano is closely tied to the musician Coalhouse's identity. Recent Ivey Emerging Artist honoree Trevor Bowen has designed the authentic period clothing in a muted palate, saving a few pops of color for Coalhouse and the wealthy. Completing the picture is Mary Shabatura's lighting design, creating some beautiful silhouettes and shocking moments of terror.

I have no doubt that Ragtime will take its place on many year-end best-of lists. It deeply affected me in a way theater, or anything, rarely does. Not only is this show beautiful to look at and listen to and chock full of incredible performances, it does the thing that theater at its best is supposed to do. It provides thoughtful and meaningful commentary on the world we live in. I had tears behind my eyes for most of the show, and had trouble holding back sobs as it came to its intense conclusion. But the tears were not for Coalhouse, Sarah, Tateh, or Mother. The tears were for the Coalhouses, Sarahs, Tatehs, and Mothers of our own world, the ones we see suffering injustice on the news every day. In his final song, Coalhouse sings, "make them hear you." It's easy to feel frustrated and helpless at all of the injustices of the world. But there's one easy way to "make them hear you" - vote. If the issues illuminated in Ragtime are important to you, look at the candidates' stand on these issues. Look at their track records in fighting for justice and equality for all genders, sexual orientations, races, classes, and nationalities. And then vote. Make them hear you! Because "we'll never get to heaven 'til we reach that day," when every child can "ride on the wheels of a dream."

Ragtime is not just an exquisite piece of music-theater, it also shines a light on the issues of the day, issues that were never more crucial to consider than now in this election season. Thank you Peter Rothstein and Theater Latte Da for recognizing the brilliance of Ragtime and bringing it to us now when we need it most. Go see Ragtimebetween now and October 23, and then vote on November 8. Make them hear you!

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about Park Square Theatre's 2012 production of Ragtime. **Sarah and Coalhouse will get a second chance at a happy ending; Traci Allen Shannon will play Cinderella and David L. Murray Jr. will play her prince in Cinderella at the Children's Theatre Company, opening in November.

Ragtime by Theater Latté Da

David and Chelsea BerglundHowWasTheShow

September 26, 2016

David: It is easy to see why Theater Latté Da chose this moment to mount their own production of Ragtime(running through October 23rd at their newly acquired Ritz Theater home). In times of civil unrest and political uncertainty, its themes of racial injustice and immigration anxieties resonate strongly with our contemporary realities.

Chelsea: So strongly, in fact, that it’s hard to believe that the show was written nearly 20 years ago. Intersecting and intertwining three quintessentially American stories from the turn of the twentieth century,Ragtime follows a few characters from each of three major people groups as reflections of that group’s experience: African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, and wealthy white families.

David: Sadly, it highlights that this country has yet to overcome many of the struggles it has always faced. And yet, despite the aptness of the themes, I can say with confidence after having now seen three productions, including this very inventive and astute rendition, that I am not a big fan of the show itself. Condensed from a sizeable novel by E.L. Doctorow, it is simply too noisy with plot, emotion, and characters to hit as deep a chord as it needs.

Chelsea: I definitely see what you mean, as Ragtime’s book by Terrence McNally is broad, with a number of primary characters each with involved arcs, but it generally really works for me. Despite a couple of odd character shifts and some unnecessary bits, I still find myself getting involved in the story every time I see it. Some of this may have to do with the incredible score (music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens) and timely themes, and some may result from the arc of Mother, whose character most organically interacts with all of the other storylines and helps tie things together for me.

David: Her character is definitely the heart of the show and has the most fully fleshed transformation. And it doesn’t hurt that Britta Ollman imbues this figure with subtle and nuanced shifts throughout. Her showstopping, second act rendition of “Back to Before” is exquisite and utterly heartbreaking.

Chelsea: Ollman is fantastic in this part, and generally speaking, Latte Da’s production boasts fabulous performances all around from its fairly stripped down cast (most of the non-principal actors play multiple roles). Sasha Andreev beautifully captures the plight of the immigrant in Tateh’s every labored movement and seems to feel every wrenching note of his early song, “Success.” Traci Allen Shannon’s Sarah is warm, tentative, and expresses pain with poignancy in “Daddy’s Son.”

David: The show’s set (scenic design by Michael Hoover) is also stripped down and mostly bare, which somewhat counteracts the show’s busyness, utilizing a striking lighting design (by Mary Shabatura) to isolate moments and performances, making the occasionally bombastic plotting more personal. Most of director Peter Rothstein’s decisions indeed work for the best, stemming from a keen sense of space that creates some memorable vignettes along the way. That said, I did think that some of the ideas, such as wheeled scaffold staircases, created for some at times awkward movements despite their visual flair.

Chelsea: I thought the staircases worked well and their inauspicious nature focused attention on the actors and music rather than the surroundings—something I found extremely effective, especially considering the vocal talent on stage and Denise Prosek’s rich musical direction. As far as direction is concerned, I loved the ways Rothstein staged many scenes, from the use of silhouette throughout to echo Tateh’s artistic profession to a beautiful choice of timing to end Act I. Ultimately, that choice, like so many in this particular production, underlined the way this story mirrors contemporary America. Ragtime simply feels important.

David: Well, with its many emotional and musical crescendos, it certainly wants to feel important. And while I may personally desire more focused plotting, this production nevertheless managed to induce goosebumps at several key moments. In these moments, the show indeed felt essential and the strength of the production far overshadowed any flaws in the writing.

Chelsea: It’s absolutely worth seeing. Latte Da manages yet another first-rate musical experience, even if the book may not be as clean as some would want. But then again, neither is the American story.

 

'Ragtime' gives heart to a powerful American parable

Graydon RoyceStar Tribune

September 25, 2016

Review: The old story turns on current issues like wealth, racial division and immigration.

America needs to see this musical.

America the beautiful, fragile, ugly bully needs to peer into the reflection that is “Ragtime” and contemplate how it is that a nation so full of hope and good heart has become so mean and angry.

“Ragtime” asks us to pause and consider why we are so fearful of the future as we are losing confidence in our past.

Theater Latte Da opened its 19th season Saturday in its new permanent home, the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis, with a poignant revival of this musical adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s sweeping novel. Though set in fin de siècle New York, “Ragtime” is concerned with the same triumphs and tragedies that are in today’s headlines.

Director Peter Rothstein has scaled this once massive show into a stripped down ritual that makes what might have been nostalgia feel current and urgent. Eleven adults and three children tell the parable of our nation’s fraught psyche on a bare stage defined by a back brick wall (Michael Hoover’s set) and a rolling grand piano that represents ragtime, that syncopated music so full of the rhythms and contradictions in Terrence McNally’s script.

Mary Shabatura’s lighting scheme uses shadows and small instruments to fine effect, and costume designer Trevor Bowen works overtime to clad the actors for their double and triple roles.

“Ragtime” follows three families through the wrenching transitions of turn-of-the-century America. Father (Daniel S. Hines) is rich enough to seek adventure elsewhere, leaving the home to Mother (Britta Ollmann). Coalhouse Walker Jr. (David L. Murray Jr.) seeks reconciliation through music with his beloved Sarah (Traci Allen Shannon). Tateh (Sasha Andreev) is fresh off the boat from Eastern Europe and seeking his fortune.

“Ragtime” does not pretend these are terribly complex portraits. The show, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, is a pageant of metaphor — a string of vignettes stitched together to tell a larger parable that feels relevant: how the avarice of great wealth seeks its own adventure and comfort; how the aspirations of people of color denied justice can be radicalized into protest, and how immigrants ironically are the greatest believers in the American dream.

And there on the periphery are the celebrities who distract us from what is important.

Ollmann is the pure heart of this show as the sympathetic Mother who takes in an abandoned baby and comforts the child’s mom, played by Shannon with many layers of hurt.

Murray’s face changes into hard disillusionment as Coalhouse turns to terrorism. Andreev as Tateh and Andre Shoals as Booker T. Washington do excellent work, as do Hines and Riley McNutt as a disillusioned man of privilege. Kelli Foster Warder’s choreography uses silhouette to great effect.

Latte Da opened last season at the Ritz with the masterful “Sweeney Todd.” The cool virtuosity of that work can’t be matched by “Ragtime,” but what this musical illustrates so well is the heart that Rothstein and music director Denise Prosek have always brought to Latte Da. And it is more than mere sentiment. Rothstein convinces us that these are the raw and honest emotions of people caught in hard times. This elegant staging provokes and comforts.

America needs provocation and comfort right now. Desperately so.

With 'Ragtime,' Latte Da puts down new roots

Euan KerrMPR News

September 23, 2016

Theater Latte Da will be launching a new era when it opens its production of "Ragtime" this weekend. The longtime nomadic company recently bought the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis.

"Ragtime" is an epic tale of America at the dawn of the 20th century. It's a time of change, of new ideas, industrial innovation and, of course, new music.

"Giving the nation a new syncopation, the people called it 'Ragtime!'" the cast sings in the prologue.

Based on E.L. Doctorow's 1975 novel, the musical version of "Ragtime" hit Broadway in the late 1990s. It follows the story of a middle-class white family, an African-American musician and a Jewish immigrant from Latvia, all living in New York. Their tales unfold and entwine amidst the famous and the infamous of the time: Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan and Emma Goldman. It was also a time of unrest.

"Ladies with parasols, fellas with tennis balls! There were gazebos! And there were no Negroes!" sings the cast. "And everything was Ragtime!"

Demands for equality in the face of violent racism and anti-immigrant sentiment led to riots.

"I began reimagining it primarily because I was trying to find the right story to tell right now," said Peter Rothstein, artistic director of Latte Da.

Rothstein had been scouring the musical theater canon. With a new building to fill and a local community to serve, he had to meet many needs. He was "looking for shows that would work in an intimate space like the Ritz Theater, that were looking at issues of national identity around the election season," he said. "Looking towards our more immediate community around the role of civil disobedience towards racial justice.

"And I just kept coming back to 'Ragtime' as the perfect show for now."

Let's go back to that word "reimagining," through. The Broadway production of "Ragtime" was huge, with a chorus and dancers. For all its charms, the Ritz is no Broadway theater. Rothstein's "Ragtime" has been pared way down.

"Yeah, I think the original Broadway production has around 48 people, and we are doing it with 14," he said.

All while maintaining every big song and the show's epic span. Actor Sasha Andreev plays the Jewish immigrant Tateh. He said the Ritz is so intimate, performers are often just inches from audience members.

"I have to constantly remember to be as authentic as I can be on stage, because when the audience is right there, they can see you lie," he said.

Fellow cast members David Murray and Traci Allen Shannon agree. Murray plays Coalhouse Porter, a musician making a name in the Harlem nightclubs. Shannon plays Sarah, his lost love. He doesn't know she's had his child, and has been taken in by a wealthy white family.

Shannon said the show's intensity is heightened by the small size of the cast. She and David Murray said the depictions of police brutality are especially upsetting.

"These are some of the things that my parents and their parents talked about, and explained to us," he said. "The same stuff we learned in school, you know, black history. It just repeats, over and over and over."

Shannon agreed, but said while "Ragtime" explores historical ugliness, it also offers the hope that future generations will find a way forward. "Because that, I actually believe, is the promise of America," she said. "The coming together of these cultures and backgrounds and experiences and every voice being heard."

For Rothstein, "Ragtime" is just a beginning. He wants to use the Ritz as a hub to continue Latte Da's work of developing new musical theater. The company committed two years ago to developing 20 new musicals by 2020. He laughed and said he needs to get through opening first.

"The stakes feel high," he said. "I think we have been so fortunate to have this building and call this building our home that there is now a responsibility to shepherd it well."

But Rothstein is confident that "Ragtime" is the show that will declare the Ritz to be Theater Latte Da's home.

‘Ragtime’ the musical is a period piece for the present period

Chris HewittPioneer Press

September 22, 2016

The musical drama “Ragtime” opened on Broadway 18 years ago, but it’s not much of a stretch to call it a show for the Black Lives Matter era.

Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, “Ragtime,” which Theater Latte Da opens Saturday night at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis, connects three stories in the years leading up to World War I: Latvian immigrant Tateh and his daughter try to make their way in America; a wealthy New York family (the youngest has the same first name as Doctorow, Edgar, but the others are known as Father, Mother, Younger Brother, etc.) faces choices that may rip it apart; and an African-American ragtime pianist named Coalhouse Walker embraces anarchy after he is sent over the edge by a series of tragedies.

It’s that last segment that makes “Ragtime” feel timely (or timeless, since you could say the 1831 Nat Turner rebellion was the first Black Lives Matter event, albeit with much different methods). Although “Ragtime” is fictional, protest is real today.

Set at a time of enormous change, “Ragtime” turns many real-world things into the stuff of musical drama, using music — something people of different ethnicities and classes share — as a metaphor for revolution. In fact, one song in the show, called “New Music,” promises that “the world is changing.”

Here are a few of the big changes signaled in “Ragtime”:

Flip book — Called “movie books” by Tateh (the show seems to credit him with inventing them, although they predate the character), they’re a forerunner of animated movies. When you quickly flip the pages of the book, silhouetted drawings on their edges appear to spring to life.

Rag — Doctorow’s book connects the characters to different meanings of the term. Tateh and his daughter come to America on a “rag ship,” an oceanliner bringing European immigrants to America (many of them to work in the rag trade, or clothing industry). Coalhouse plays rags on the piano. And Father’s business turns rags of fabric into American flags.

Ragtime  — A form of music that began to appear in the late 1800s. Scott Joplin, whom “Ragtime” indicates was a friend of the fictional Coalhouse, is its most famous composer and “Maple Leaf Rag” is probably his most famous song. Or it was, until Marvin Hamlisch used Joplin’s music in “The Sting” and made “The Entertainer” a hit. (A side note: “The Sting” is set in the mid-1930s, when Joplin’s music had dipped in popularity.)

Ragtime — Doctorow’s National Book Award-winning novel, inspired by his ancestors and turn-of-the-century history, was considered groundbreaking for incorporating real people such as Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington and Emma Goldman into its fictional universe. The book is substantially altered for the musical. Father, for instance, is a smaller character in the show than in the book, and Coalhouse, who doesn’t appear until the book is half over, is a much larger character.

Suburbs — New Rochelle, where much of “Ragtime” is set, was one of the first American suburbs, its growth made possible by commuter railroads and wide ownership of automobiles. One particular auto, Coalhouse Walker’s Model T, leads directly to the action of the musical and the Model T’s producer, Henry Ford, is a character in it.

World War I — No spoilers on the ending of “Ragtime,” but it encompasses both the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which helped touch off WWI, and the sinking of the Lusitania, which convinced the United States to enter the war that changed the face of the world.

IF YOU GO

What: “Ragtime”

When: Through Oct. 23

Where: Ritz Theater, 345 14th Ave. N.E., Mpls.

Tickets: $48-$35, 612-339-3003 or theaterlatteda.com

Election season means it's the right time for 'Ragtime'

Rohan PrestonStar Tribune

September 22, 2016

Election season means it's the right time for 'Ragtime'

American dreams and despair mingle in the musical, getting a revival by Theatre Latté Da.

A Latvian man with an unusual name and even funnier accent faces scorn as an interloper, even as he imagines making it big in America. An African-American family longing for justice and truth has an encounter with the police that ends tragically. And a family of white suburbanites despairs about the state of the nation.

These are not people being held up for discussion in this year of presidential politics and Black Lives Matter. They are characters in “Ragtime,” the big musical by composer Stephen Flaherty and librettist Lynn Ahrens being revived this weekend by Theatre Latté Da.

The show is set a century ago, but its animating questions seem as urgent as ever as some folks question whether the American experiment is being torn beyond repair.

“Even though the show is historical fiction, we’re reminded that history repeats itself,” said Sasha Andreev, who plays Tateh, the Jewish immigrant.

“I wish certain scenes didn’t remind me of things I’ve recently seen on the news,” said Traci Allen Shannon, who plays Sarah, a young black mother.

 The sweeping 1996 musical, based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel, is a forbidding project to tackle, not least because of its scale. On Broadway, it had a massive cast of 30-plus.

Director Peter Rothstein has changed things up for this “Ragtime,” which opens Friday for a five-week run at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis. Originally, the show suggested the segregation of early 20th-century life by having three ensembles represent the black, white and immigrant worlds.

Rothstein has distilled the cast to 11 adults and three children. The change is made not by economic necessity but by aesthetic considerations. He hopes to show the promise of the nation even as he blurs the lines between these cultures.

The actors welcome this integrative approach, in which all are onstage in supporting roles.

“It’s a reminder that in our country we do have the opportunities to lend our voices to the telling of each other’s stories,” Shannon said. “In some ways we’re seeing some ugly moments in the show, as we are in the world, but there’s a lot of beauty and promise there.”

The cast includes David Murray, a native of Jackson, Miss., and New York transplant who is much buzzed about in the Twin Cities. (He will play Prince Charming opposite Shannon in “Cinderella” at Children’s Theatre later this fall.) Murray plays Coalhouse Walker, Sarah’s love.

“If you’re an African-American man, this is one of those bucket-list heroes,” Murray said. “But beyond the personal level, he’s someone with character and strength who is always seeking justice.”

Some of the “Ragtime” actors have found parallels between their lives and those of their characters.

Andreev, who emigrated from Russia in 1990, recalls that, like Tateh, he was mocked for his accent. “I spent many years trying to escape that accent, to assimilate and blend in,” he said. “I wanted to pass as an American. That’s what I share with a lot of immigrants.”

But his kinship to the character goes beyond that obvious commonality: Tateh becomes a successful film director. “In my own family, there was a lot of pressure to do something else that my family would see making money,” he said. “I pride myself on the fact that after 26 years in this country, I make my living as an artist.”

For Shannon, the connection is motherhood.

“Sarah is a new mother with a tragic story — I’m a new mother with a lot of joy and love in my life,” she said. “In some ways, it’s challenging because the show has an autobiographical style. A lot of the characters are narrating themselves and telling their own stories. So, you identify deeply with your character.”

She invoked the song “Wheels of a Dream,” a song that Coalhouse sings to his new son, to express the sentiments shared by all parents:

I see his face, I hear his heartbeat, I look in those eyes. How wise they seem. Well, when he is old enough, I will show him America. And he will ride on the wheels of a dream.

“All these characters have children — that right there is a sign of hope, of believing that there’s a future,” Shannon said, alluding to the issues roiling this election season. “I have a child. I have no choice but to be hopeful.”

Theater Latté Da opens Season 19 with McNally, Flaherty, and Ahrens’ epic, provocative musical RAGTIME

August 18, 2016  

Contact: Seena Hodges seena@latteda.org 612-767-5646 office

 

Theater Latté Da opens Season 19 with McNally, Flaherty, and Ahrens’ epic, provocative musical RAGTIME

 Based on E.L. Doctorow’s gripping novel, RAGTIME follows the lives of three American families through the promise-filled and volatile early 20th century.

 RAGTIME features Sasha Andreev as Tateh, David Murray as Coalhouse Walker, Jr., Britta Ollmann as Mother, and Traci Allen Shannon as Sarah.

 CLICK HERE FOR PHOTOS

 Performances begin September 21 at the Ritz Theater. Single tickets and season subscriptions are on sale now at latteda.org or 612-339-3003. 

(Minneapolis/St. Paul) Theater Latté Da today announced casting for the epic, provocative musical RAGTIME. Nominated for 13 Tony Awards and winner of Best Book and Best Score, this deeply moving musical features a compelling book by Terrence McNally, and a glorious score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. Theater Latté Da Artistic Director Peter Rothstein will direct with Resident Music Director Denise Prosek serving as music director. Performances begin September 21 at the Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE in Minneapolis). Single tickets and full season subscriptions can be purchased at latteda.org or by calling 612-339-3003.

It’s the turn-of-the century, everything is changing and anything is possible. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s landmark novel, RAGTIME follows the lives of three American families and their communities through the promise-filled early 20th century. Set against the backdrop of the volatile melting pot of New York City,  the musical weaves together three distinct American stories—a determined Jewish immigrant father, a daring Harlem musician, and a stifled woman of privilege—united by their courage, compassion, and belief in a better tomorrow. Together they confront what it means to be an American at the dawn of a new century.

On the musical Rothstein offers, “Ragtime is as relevant as ever in its provocative explanation of race, class, gender, and immigration. This musical goes right to the heart of how we define ourselves as a nation in terms of who we are and what we wish to become.” He continues, “Doctorow’s poignant story is enhanced by Ahrens and Flaherty’s glorious score—one of the most sophisticated and lush in all of musical theater.”

Rothstein has assembled a dynamic, pitch-perfect cast to bring to life the stories of three families from different ethnic and economic strata. Several Theater Latté Da favorites, and some exciting new faces, are set to appear in this vibrant musical. The production features Sasha Andreev (Theater Latté Da: Steerage Song) as the entrepreneurial widower Tateh; Debra Berger in her Theater Latté Da debut as the rabble-rousing Emma Goldman; Daniel Hines in his Theater Latté Da debut as the rigid Father; Emily Jansen (Theater Latté Da: GYPSY) as the Vaudeville star Evelyn Nesbit; Riley McNutt (Theater Latté Da: ALL IS CALM) as the impassioned trailblazer Younger Brother; David Murray in his Theater Latté Da debut as the daring Coalhouse Walker; Britta Ollmann (Theater Latté Da: Violet, Into the Woods) as the kindhearted Mother; James Ramlet (Theater Latté Da: Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, ALL IS CALM, and C. ) as the no-nonsense Grandfather; Andre Shoals (Theater Latté Da: AIDA) as the lauded historical figure Booker T. Washington; and Traci Allen Shannon in her Theater Latté Da debut as the determined young mother Sarah. Soren Miller and Georgia Blando make their Theater Latté Da debuts as Little Boy and Little Girl, respectively.

RAGTIME also features choreography by Kelli Foster Warder, costume design by Trevor Bowen, scenic design by Michael Hoover, and lighting design by Mary Shabatura.

Theater Latté Da is an award-winning Twin Cities musical theater company that combines music and story to illuminate the breadth and depth of the human experience. The company seeks to create new connections between story, music, artists, and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater.  latteda.org

FACT SHEET:

RAGTIME

Book by Terrence McNally Music by Stephen Flaherty Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens Based on the novel “Ragtime” by E. L. Doctorow Directed by Peter Rothstein Music Direction by Denise Prosek Choreography by Kelli Foster Warder

Featuring: Sasha Andreev, Debra Berger, Daniel Hines, Emily Jansen, Riley McNutt, David Murray, Britta Ollmann, James Ramlet, Andre Shoals, Traci Allen Shannon, Soren Miller, and Georgia Blando.

Dates: Wednesday, September 21 – Sunday, October 23, 2016

Venue: Ritz Theater (345 13th Avenue NE, Minneapolis MN 55413)

It's the turn-of-the-century, everything is changing and anything is possible. Based on E.L. Doctorow's landmark novel, Ragtime is set in the volatile melting pot of New York City. Three distinct American stories are woven together—a determined Jewish immigrant, a daring Harlem musician, and a stifled woman of privilege united by their courage, compassion and belief in a better tomorrow. Together they confront what it means to be an American at the dawn of a new century. With a compelling book by Terrence McNally and a glorious score by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Ragtime was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and was awarded Best Book and Best Score.

Performance Dates and Times:

Wednesday, September 21 at 7:30 PM (Preview)

Thursday, September 22 at 7:30 PM (Preview)

Friday, September 23 at 7:30 PM (Preview)

Saturday, September 24 at 7:30 PM (Opening Night)

Sunday, September 25 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Wednesday, September 28 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Thursday, September 29 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, September 30 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 1 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 2 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Sunday, October 2 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Thursday, October 6 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion; ASL/AD)

Friday, October 7 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 9 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Sunday, October 9 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 12 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, October 14 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 15 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 16 at 2:00 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Sunday, October 16 at 7:00 PM

Wednesday, October 19 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Thursday, October 20 at 7:30 PM (Post-Show Discussion)

Friday, October 21 at 7:30 PM

Saturday, October 22 at 7:30 PM

Sunday, October 23 at 2:00 PM

Sunday, October 23 at 7:00 PM

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