A Musical in Two Acts, 18 Scenes, a Prologue and Epilogue. Book by Terrence McNally. Based on the novel of the same name by E. L. Doctorow. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Orchestrations by William David Brohn. Dance music arranged by David Krane. Vocal arrangements by Stephen Flaherty.
Opened 18 January 1998 at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts and closed 16 January 2000 after 861 performances.
Revival: Neil Simon Theatre, Broadway. 15 November, 2009. Closed 19th January, 2010 (65 perfs)
On a scrim, twin photographic images appear: turn of the century men and women, well-off, dignified, all in cream and white. A young boy, called simply The Little Boy, picks up a stereopticon, raises it before his eyes, and the two photo-graphic images merge and come to life.
We are on the front lawn of a home in New Rochelle, New York as The Little Boy, Mother, Father, Mother's Younger Brother, their family and neighbours sing of a new era. Soon their genteel life is interrupted by Negroes from Harlem, and then by immigrants arriving from Eastern Europe: three distinct cultures that now must live together.
On the dock in New York Harbour, Mother bids farewell to Father as he boards the S.S. Roosevelt bound for the North Pole with Admiral Peary. At sea, leaving the harbour, Father spots a "rag" ship of immigrants heading to Ellis Island and wonders what these arriving passengers are in for. On the "rag" ship, an immigrant named Tateh and his motherless Little Girl see a flare light up the sky and Father waving, and wonder why anyone would leave this America.
In a courtroom in Manhattan, Evelyn Nesbit testifies in the scandalous murder trial of her husband, Harry K. Thaw, accused of shooting her lover, the famous architect Stanford White.
Back in New Rochelle, Mother is planting in her garden when she discovers a newborn Negro boy buried in the earth. Clutching the child to her body she wonders "what kind of woman" would do such a thing. She soon finds out - the police arrive with Sarah, mute, scared, desperate. The police intend to press charges of attempted murder, but Mother intercedes - she will take them both, Sarah and the child, into her home.
At the Tempo Club in Harlem, a crowd gathers to listen to the new piano playing style of one Coalhouse Walker Jr., a style called Ragtime. The Coalhouse they find is a man with a broken heart. Sarah, the woman he loves, has run out on him. But he's determined to change his ways and win her back. Once groomed and dressed up, Coalhouse needs only one more thing to lure Sarah. Suddenly, like an apparition, Henry Ford appears along with his assembly line. The auto magnate explains his theory of mass production to Coalhouse and the dapper musician drives off in his own Model T. But the joy of his new acquisition is soon dampened when, on his search for Sarah, Coalhouse stops for directions at the Emerald Isle Firehouse. There Chief Willie Conklin and his burly buddies hurl racist abuse at Coalhouse and envy his fancy car.
In the attic room in Mother's house, Sarah, clutching her child, tries to explain to the baby what inspired her act of desperation.
Coalhouse finally finds the house in New Rochelle. When Mother informs Sarah of his arrival, Sarah asks that he be sent away. Coalhouse leaves politely, pledging to return each Sunday. Mother is charmed by the musician's romantic longing. On one Sunday, she invites him in for tea, and to play on her old Aeolian piano. Amidst this, Father arrives home unannounced from the North Pole after a year away. He finds a wife who works, a son who seems all grown up, Sarah and the baby living in the attic, and Coalhouse at the piano. He wonders if he belongs here. Attracted by the gorgeous sounds of Coalhouse's music, Sarah finally comes down the stairs and falls into his waiting arms.
On a hill overlooking New Rochelle, Coalhouse polishes his Model T and tells Sarah of new hope he has acquired from the teachings of Booker T. Washington. Together Coalhouse and Sarah sing of the promise for freedom the car represents for their son.
Tateh has now relocated to Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he works at a loom 64 hours per week for $6 pay. Emma Goldman witnesses the horrid working conditions in Lawrence, then describes them at a union rally in lower Manhattan. Younger Brother shows up at the union hall and finds himself inspired by the anarchist.
Back in Lawrence, the militia is called out to confront the strikers. The frightened workers send their children off to safe foster homes. As Tateh puts The Little Girl on the train, he is beaten to the ground. He realises sending his daughter away is a mistake. He takes off, running along the railroad track, towards safety. He takes a final plunge up onto the train into his shaken daughter's arms. Tateh calms her by giving her a flip book of silhouettes he has made, cut outs of The Little Girl ice skating. The train conductor notices Tateh demonstrating the flip book and buys it for his own daughter. Tateh realizes he may have designed a valuable product. His life is about to change,:
Driving home from their afternoon of leisure, Coalhouse and Sarah are stopped and threatened by the firehouse gang on Emerald Isle. Coalhouse sends Sarah off to safety and seeks a policeman to complain to. Upon returning to his car, Coalhouse finds it has been trashed by the firemen. A pile of human excrement has been deposited in the back seat. In a rage, Coalhouse vows that, until this wrong is righted, he cannot marry.
Sarah's heart is broken. She will resolve this for Coalhouse so they can carry out their plans. As it happens the Vice Presidential campaign train is making a whistle stop in town. Sarah attends the rally. She pushes her way through the crowd to try to get to the candidate, thinking he will answer her plea for help. But, with the recent assassination of President McKinley fresh on their minds, the guards fear any citizen and beat Sarah to the ground, and to death.
Mourning for the innocent victim begins in Harlem with a funeral procession, then spreads, via newspaper reports, all over the region.
To spend some time alone with his son, Father decides to take the Little Boy to a baseball game between the Giants and the Braves at the Polo Grounds. "It's a civilized pastime," Father assures his son. But the stands and the field are filled with rowdy immigrants and even Father can no longer ignore how his genteel society is vanishing.
At the Main Street Theatre in New Rochelle, the world famous illusionist Harry Houdini performs his act of great escape, climaxing with an explosion of smoke and fire. The Little Boy wakes up in bed. The Houdini show has been a dream. He yells for his mother. "Something bad is going to happen," he says. "It's Coalhouse."
From the darkness, a broken, ferocious Coalhouse Walker appears. He publicly states his demands: that his car be restored and that Willie Conklin be turned over to him to avenge his Sarah's death. Until the demands are met, he vows to kill firemen and destroy firehouses. A gang of devoted followers joins Coalhouse.
The tragedy reaches the home of Mother and Father. Father is highly critical of Coalhouse's violent tactics. But Younger Brother sympathises with the musician and despises Father's complacency. Younger Brother storms out of the house and heads for Harlem in search of Coalhouse. He is led to the revolutionary headquarters. Face-to-face with Coalhouse, he has so much to say but finds himself speechless. The young man is driven by the revolutionary spirit of Emma Goldman, who appears at his side.
Mother and Father's home is surrounded by a swarm of reporters. Father is fed up. He blames Mother for the disruption in their lives. Their conflict demands some change. Atlantic City seems to be the answer. There Mother will be safe with the baby, and it is close enough so that Father can visit on weekends.
On the beach outside the Breakers Hotel in Atlantic City, Father, Mother and the Little Boy see a moving picture play being filmed. The director spots the family, is attracted by Mother's beauty, and introduces himself as the Baron Ashkenazy.
The storm along the beach draws Mother and the Baron out looking for their children. As the storm fades, they converse and the Baron reveals he is no Baron at all. He is Tateh, a poor immigrant Jew who got lucky in America. Affected by the revelation, Mother changes the topic.
Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini, both performing in a boardwalk side show, meet during an intermission. The scandal is long behind Evelyn now and she is having trouble attracting an audience. Houdini, on the other hand, cannot keep them away.
Father approaches Mother on the beach, dressed in his suit and top hat. He reports that Coalhouse and his men have taken over the Morgan Library in Manhattan and have threatened to blow it up. Father feels compelled to go there and volunteer to help negotiate. Once this is over, Father insists to Mother, they can go back to their own normal lives. But Mother disagrees. Outside the Morgan Library, Conklin, under the watchful eye of N.Y. District Attorney Charles S. Whitman, works on restoring Coalhouse's car. But that is not good enough. Coalhouse wants Conklin.
Booker T. Washington enters the library to negotiate. He advises Coalhouse that for the sake of his son, he must give himself up without causing further destruction. Coalhouse secures freedom for his gang and sends them off in the restored car. With his men safe Coalhouse walks out the library door and to his fate.
The Little Boy tells us that the era of Ragtime has run out like a tune on a player piano. As a montage of characters from the entire journey fills the stage, we hear once again the promise of hope for the future.
(in order of appearance):
Shaun Amyot, Darlene Bel Grayson, Kevin Bogue, Sondra M. Bonitto, Jamie Chandler-Torns, Ralph Deaton, Rodrick Dixon, Bernard Dotson, Donna Dunmire, Adam Dyer, Duane Martin Foster, Patty Goble, Colton Green, Elisa Heinshohn, Anne Kanengeiser, Jeffrey Kuhn, Joe Langworth, Joe Locarro, Anne L. Nathan, Pachali Null, Mimi Quillen, Monica L. Richards, Orgena Rose, Gordon Stanley, Angela Teek, Keith LaMelle Thomas, Allyson Tucker, Leon Williams, Bruce Winant. Swings: Karen Andrew, John D. Baker, Mark Cassius, Dioni Michelle Collins, Mary Sharon Dziedzic, Valerie Hawkins, Kennl Hobson, Todd Thurston.
Scenes and Settings
Scene 1: Dock in the New York Harbour/At sea.
Scene 2: A vaudeville theatre, New York City.
Scene 3: Mother's garden, New Rochelle.
Scene 4: Ellis Island/Lower East Side.
Scene 5: The Tempo Club/Harlem/Ford's assembly line.
Scene 6: Railroad station, New Rochelle.
Scene 7: Emerald Isle Firehouse.
Scene 8: Mother's house, New Rochelle.
Scene 9: A hillside above New Rochelle.
Scene 10: A union hall in New York City/Lawrence, Massachusetts/A train.
Scene 11: New Rochelle and New York City.
Scene 1: The streets of New Rochelle/Mother's house.
Scene 2: The Polo Grounds.
Scene 3: Mother's house.
Scene 4: Atlantic City/Million Dollar Pier/ Boardwalk.
Scene 5: Harlem/Coalhouse's hideout.
Scene 6: The beach, Atlantic City.
Scene 7: The Morgan Library, New York City.
- Ragtime - Company
- Goodbye, My Love - Mother
- Journey On - Father, Tateh, Mother
- The Crime of the Century - Evelyn Nesbit, Mother's Younger
- What Kind of Woman - Mother
- A Shtetl Iz Amereke - Tateh, The Little Girl, Immigrants
- Success - Tateh, J.P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Ensemble
- Gettin' Ready Rag - Coalhouse Walker, Ensemble
- Henry Ford - Henry Ford, Coalhouse Walker, Ensemble
- Nothing Like the City - Tateh, Mother, The Little Boy, The
- Your Daddy's Son - Sarah
- New Music - Father, Mother, Mother's Youngest Brother, Coalhouse
Walker, Sarah, Ensemble
- Wheels of a Dream - Coalhouse Walker, Sarah
- The Night That Goldman Spoke at Union Square - Mother's Youngest
Brother, Emma Goldman, Ensemble
- Lawrence, Massachusetts - Ensemble
- Gliding - Tateh
- Justice - Coalhouse Walker, Ensemble
- President - Sarah
- Till We Reach That Day - Trolley Conductor, Coalhouse Walker, Emma Goldman, Mother's Youngest Brother, Mother, Tateh, Ensemble
- Harry Houdini, Master Escapist - The Little Boy, Harry Houdini
- Coalhouse's Soliloquy -Coalhouse Walker
- Coalhouse Demands - Company
- What a Game - Father, The Little Boy, Ensemble
- Atlantic City - Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini
- New Music (reprise) - Father
- Atlantic City (Part 2) - Ensemble
- The Crime of the Century / Harry Houdini, Master Escapist (reprise)
- Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Houdini
- Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc. - Baron Ashkenazy
- Our Children - Mother, Baron Ashkenazy
- Sarah Brown Eyes - Coalhouse Walker, Sarah
- He Wanted to Say - Emma Goldman, Mother's Youngest Brother,
Coalhouse Walker, Coalhouse's Men
- Back to Before - Mother
- Look What You've Done - Booker T. Washington , Coalhouse
Walker, Coalhouse's Men
- Make Them Hear You - Coalhouse Walker
- Epilogue - Ragtime / Wheels of a Dream (reprise) - Company