As a veteran of musical theatre and concert productions myself, I am constantly welcoming the opportunity to see and hear creativity come to life in all shapes, forms, sizes, colors, tempo and means of delivery. It seems as though it happens once in every several years when something grabs me by the collar and leaves an impact that cannot be denied, something that I have to call both stunning and memorable. The latest “Wow!” for me, is happening with the current ongoing production of Ragtime the Musical as performed by the Big Noise Theatre Company, directed by Stacey Flaster. Technically, this production is classified as community theatre, yet it begs for a more complimentary and fitting category than that. It’s simply unfair to call this community theatre… this is an entirely different weigh class here folks! There are many levels of good to great and this production sets the bar at a high artistic level. We have all seen what “community theatre” looks like… it’s the neighbor’s kid, or the local barber or your babysitter singing a tune while wearing a costume and makeup and calling it musical theatre… and that it is… albeit in lower case. What I experienced and what I am describing here is something altogether very special. This is a collective group of exceptional singer/actors who have been brought together in a cast to deliver an incredible telling of a powerful story, and the result is nothing less than “Wow!” Such is the case with this production that literally left the audience speechless on opening weekend. I am so pleased to tell you that it runs again this weekend and next weekend as well. If you don’t already have plans… you do now.
The play Ragtime the Musical (Music and Lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, Book by Terrance McNaly, is based on the novel by Robert Deason) It is the gritty and often frustratingly tragic account of the coming together in America for the immigrants, the struggle for justice and equality, for the black population and so-called elite white citizens of the turbulent time right after the turn of the previous century. The story in itself is spellbinding, but the individual performances and the mere power and strength of the ensemble left me and everyone else in the theatre gasping for air following many numbers that were flawlessly performed. This production is light years away from a typical community theatre production. It reaches a professional level on so many plains; musically it is superb, the set is brilliant, the direction is precise, deliberate and exact, and the cast is marvelous. One should always brag about good things that their family is involved in, but I am bragging loudly that Kathleen Messmer, my amazingly talented wife is in THIS particular production. To anyone in the Chicago area who reads my Weekly eNewsletter, I highly recommend seeing this show, rather than being disappointed when hearing about it from someone else that you missed something special.
Ragtime the Musical runs through May 11 at Prarie Lakes Theatre (515 E Thacker, Des Plaines, IL). For Tickets and show times (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) call (847-604-0275) and visit www.bignoise.org.