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Theater review: Ragtime

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PERHAPS YOU CAN feel it. In the wake of a Debacle Dolly that opened the summer season at CP, Davidson Community Players has flipped the universe upside-down with their current production of Ragtime. Better set, better sound system, more daring repertoire, and — last Saturday night — a sellout house. Isn't that what the professionals are expected to deliver at Halton Theater?

Terrence McNally's adaptation masterfully captures the sweep of E.L. Doctorow's historical novel, and the score by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens is studded with stirring songs, including "The Wheels of a Dream," "The Night that Emma Goldman Spoke at Union Square," and "Make Them Hear You." Anna Sartin's imposing set would shrivel to insignificance, however, if director Melissa Ohlman-Roberge hadn't assembled a cast with sufficient firepower to deliver this epic book and score.

Certainly, the debut of Timothe Bittle as Coalhouse Walker, the ragtime piano player who becomes a radicalized public enemy, is the most sensational feature of this production up at Duke Family Performance Hall, for Bittle gets to steer two of those big tunes. But there are more familiar names making sure that McNally's three main plotlines intersect elegantly and tunefully. Lisa Smith Bradley, Erik D'Esterre, and Steven B. Martin are the respectable whitefolk from New Rochelle who offer shelter to Coalhouse's wife and son, and Kevin Roberge is Tateh, the Jewish immigrant who literally lives the rags-to-riches American dream. Brianna Smith as Goldman and Stuart Spencer as the bigoted fire chief are among the other standouts.

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