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A Dozen Facts about Ragtime

Melinda Pfundstein (left) as Mother, Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Tateh, and Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the Festival’s production of Ragtime.

Melinda Pfundstein (left) as Mother, Aaron Galligan-Stierle as Tateh, and Ezekiel Andrew as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the Festival’s production of Ragtime.

By Liz Armstrong

Being performed this year at the Utah Shakespeare Festival and based on the novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime is an award-winning musical which tells the stories of a wealthy white couple, a Jewish immigrant father and daughter, and an African-American ragtime musician. They experience vastly different worlds; however, they all have the same desire—to pursue the American dream even while many are battling for racial and social justice. Although many people are familiar with the story of the novel, musical, and movie, here are twelve things you may not know.

  1. Ragtime could not have been selected to play for a more appropriate season of the Festival. The Festival has reopened after a year off due to the pandemic, and this play could be a sort of tribute to the playwright, Terrence McNally, who died last March due to COVID-19.

  2. McNally was a pioneer of the LGBTQ movement, never shying away from the fight for inclusivity and shining a light on LGBTQ lifestyles in his play Corpus Christi, which depicted a Christ-like character as homosexual.

  3. The creators of the music in Ragtime, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, were inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame after the dynamic duo earned an array of prestigious awards, including the Tony and Critic Circle awards.

  4. As a historical novel, Doctorow’s Ragtime was included in Time magazine’s 100 Best English Language Novels from 1923 to 2005.

  5. The original production was said to have set records with its $11 million budget. It fascinated audiences with fireworks and a Model T automobile.

  6. In 1998, Ragtime was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards. It won four, including Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Musical Score, Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Audra Mcdonald), and Best Orchestrations.

  7. An article by Tony Bravo argues that Ragtime should be adapted to the big-screen. Although the book focuses on characters in 1906, the inequality and justice issues discussed in the story are still problematic in today’s society. As Lawrence Henley says, “The primary lesson in Ragtime may be this: the more our nation changes, the more things have stayed the same.”

  8. Set in New York City, both the novel and musical include prominent historical figures such as Emma Goldman, Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Evelyn Nesbit, and Harry Houdini.

  9. Ragtime earned its name from the unique musical style that swept the nation at the turn of the twentieth century.

  10. The show hit Broadway in 1998, opening in the brand new Ford Center for the Performing Arts.

  11. Following its run on Broadway, Ragtime went on two national tours. The London production earned eight Olivier nominations.

  12. The Model-T in the Festival’s production was built from an old golf cart base by the amazing properties crew, led by Properties Director Benjamin Hohman.

© Utah Shakespeare Festival 2023 www.bard.org