Ragtime. Book by Terrence McNally, Lyrics by Lynn Ahrends, Music by Stephen Flaherty. Based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow. Alleyn’s Theatre, Dulwich, London SE 22 to 27 August 2022. 4****. William Russell.

This sprawling Broadway Tony Award winning musical provides a perfect vehicle to display the talents of the students at the National Youth Music Theatre. There is scope for a large chorus and a cluster of roles offering chances for individual students to shine which in this very well drilled, handsomely staged and sung production by Hannah Chissick they most certainly do. The chorus is particularly strong and there is a standout performance from Lucy Carter as Mother. Sam Sayen as Tateh and Zolani Dube as Coalhouse Walker Jr also rise to the occasion as does Katlo Masola who plays Sarah . There are some problems – not all the students are the right age to play the character they are given although that is a risk the NYMT always take – but they do not detract from the overall success of the production. This is, after all, a student showcase which also benefits from a large and good orchestra under Musical Director David Randall.

The story does sprawl – the piece runs for nearly three hours – and there are several false endings to act one, but it remains a powerful tale about what happened to musician Coalhouse, Sarah, the mother of his child, and Mother, the woman in whose garden Sarah abandoned her baby. It is turn of the century America, a world of immigrants, rampant Irish who regard the African Americans, although they would not have called them that, as scum and ragtime is the new music of the day. Mother is a middle class wife who discovers independence, Tateh, the Latvian maker of silhouettes becomes a film maker. The fictional characters are surrounded by people of the time – the girl in the red velvet swing, Evelyn Nesbitt, Harry Houdini, the activist Emma Goldman, Booker T Washington and moguls like J.P. Morgan and Henry Ford who are living the American dream while some of the others are part of the American nightmare. It is a heady mix, there are lots of opportunities for students to show what they can do – Zaya Tserenbat also makes an impression as Nesbitt – and the result is a rewarding evening of musical theatre.

Director: Hannah Chiswick.

Musical Director: David Randall.

Choeographer: Naathan ‘Neo’ Gordon.

Set & Costume Designer: Libby Todd.

Production Photography Konrad Bertelski.

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