"People Call it Ragtime!" A Review of the SDMT Production

We Review the San Diego Musical Theatre Production of Ragtime

San Diego Musical Theatre

It’s a story of police brutality, racism, and anti-immigration sentiment. No, it’s not from a 2016 newspaper; these are some of the themes of San Diego Musical Theatre’s current production of Ragtime. The musical unleashed a series of powerful dramatic moments, light-hearted giggles, and show-stopping power ballads that essentially demanded that the audience give a standing ovation. 

It’s no surprise to anyone that San Diego Musical Theatre put on another flawless show; for years, this local company has been performing hit after hit of Broadway musicals. Ragtime does not disappoint in this respect. It offers beautiful singing, high-energy characters, and an emotional journey through early 20th century New York. Ragtime is a Broadway production first performed in 1996 based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow. In summary, Ragtime details the lives of three different families—one white and established, one black and striving for a better life, and one immigrating from Latvia. The three unlikely families all intersect throughout the show in ways that ultimately change their lives.

I won’t beat around the bush: if you love musicals, Ragtime is a must-see show. From the incredible opening song, which sticks with you long after the production has ended, to beautiful ballads like “Sarah Brown Eyes,” Ragtime is littered with musical moments that simultaneously break your heart and make you shake your head in amazement. Carolyn Agan, who plays the role of Mother in Ragtime, gave an outstanding performance with songs such as “Goodbye, My Love” and “Back to Before.” She conveyed a sentimentality and kindness through her songs that is unparalleled.

But the emotional centerpiece of Ragtime was clearly the relationship between character Coalhouse Walker Jr (Jay Donnell) and Sarah (Nicole Pryor). Through not only the ballads, but within the little moments between the two characters—when Coalhouse grabs her hand or when Sarah gives him a small smile—their love and affection shines through. No matter how you feel about Coalhouse and his sometime questionable actions, his beautiful relationship with Sarah cannot be denied, and that is a credit to the wonderful acting of Donnell and Pryor.

San Diego Musical Theatre Ragtime

What the San Diego Musical Theatre does well through the production of Ragtime is convey both an accurate representation of pre-World War I life and an overall timelessness. The production takes place during a time of change (much like today), where the loud, roaring music imitated social unrest. Even though Ragtime takes place in the early 20th century, the social (and emotional) situations within Ragtime correspond well to current discussions about immigration and racial divides. There is almost a haunting realization that even though we live a hundred years after the action in Ragtime takes place, we as a country are still facing the same problems. This production does a beautiful job of merging very real political issues with emotion-driven stories that tug at your heart-strings.

If there’s one true gripe I have about Ragtime, it’s that the show ends immediately following a gut-wrenching climax, and oh how I wanted more.

If you’re new to Ragtime, I strongly recommend that you go into the show blind, without looking up the summary or any plot points beforehand. Part of the beauty of this production stems from the very real and unexpected emotion from the characters, and you can only fully appreciate this through watching the plot unfold. Spoilers make the world go ‘round in 2016, but definitely make an effort to watch Ragtime without any prior knowledge.

Ragtime is showing at Spreckels Theatre in Downtown San Diego until February 21st. Tickets are available at the San Diego Musical Theatre website.