Sunday’s performance of “Ragtime the Musical” by the Free Synagogue of Flushing Community Theatre Group was inspiring.
There were the same number of people in the audience as there were on stage — 60 in each— and you could tell everyone was there because of love of theater or love of family on the part of the actors’ many family members who were there for support.
Community theater is unique because these aren’t paid actors, but people who work other jobs yet scrape together enough energy at the end of the day to practice the art they love. Hurricane Sandy only magnified the actors’ passion for theater.
Many live in Manhattan and had to trudge to Flushing using spotty transit. Even more inspiring was the actor from the Rockaways who still made it to opening night and the set designer who resides in Coney Island. Nov. 4, the opening performance, was in fact the first time the set designer had the lights up and running.
Also because of the devastating storm the group couldn’t rehearse as much as it would have liked, director Maryellen Pierce said, but as they say in the biz — “The show must go on.”
And go on it did.
Pierce gave a disclaimer saying although the cast is “phenomenal” there may be some glitches. I counted maybe two — if that. The lights didn’t shine on Sarah played by Amanda-Camille Isaac when she started her monologue and Booker T. Washington played by Kenee Lee stumbled over his lines, but his booming, commanding voice made up for any waiver.
“Ragtime the Musical” is based on of the 1975 novel by Terrence McNally.
It’s 1904 and three worlds are colliding in and around New York City.
There are the upper-middle-class Protestants who live in New Rochelle, wear white and play tennis; the African-Americans from Harlem who make music and believe in true love despite racism; and the Eastern European immigrants trying to live the American dream while facing the horrible conditions of tenements on the Lower East Side and in factories.
Each group had its leader: Mother, the once passive housewife who finds her voice, represents the upper-middle class; Coalhouse Walker, the Harlem ragtime piano player speaks for the African-Americans; and Tateh, the artist-turned entrepreneur, is the face of the new immigrants.
All the actors playing these roles captured their characters. Amanda Doria as Mother belted out her songs and projected the personal transformation from quiet and complacent to an equality activist in her own way. Rodney Singleton as Coalhouse also went from a spunky musician introducing ragtime to the world — even if the fake piano was a little hokey — to the angry African-American sick of being treated as a lesser person.
Tateh, played by Scott Palma, was my favorite of the three. His voice doesn’t stack up to Singleton’s or Doria’s amazing vocals, but there was something about the way he performed his heart-wrenching and comical lines that exuded a believability and magnetism that drew me to his character.
Historical figures such as Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, JP Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry Kendall Thaw, Admiral Peary, Matthew Henson and Emma Goldman also punctuate the plot with cameos.
Jenna Kantor, who played Evelyn Nesbit did an awesome job. The young dancer and model gained additional notoriety when her 40-year-old architect and lover, Stanford White, was murdered by her multimillionaire husband, Harry Kendall Thaw.
Kantor confidently played her role — making the audience feel like they were watching the fame-hungry burlesque dancer in person with her half-annoying, half-endearing trademark “Weeeee!” she would say as she windmilled her arms in her bright pink getup.
The two-hour-long show dragged a little, as many 1904 pieces can — but there was romance, murder, historical intrigue, magic, passion, music and comedy. A little bit of everything to entertain the young and old.
When: Nov 10 and 17 at 8 p.m., Nov. 11 and 18 at 3 p.m.
Where: Free Synagogue of Flushing, 41-60 Kissena Blvd.
Tickets: $17, $15 for seniors
(718) 428-8681, firstname.lastname@example.org