Review: ‘Ragtime’ at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley (*****)

“Ragtime” interweaves the lives of dozens of characters pursuing the American Dream. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.

by Otto Coelho

Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

With so much going on in America – injustice, discrimination, racism, violence – it’s easy to say “Let’s take in a nice musical to forget all our troubles.” Seeing “Ragtime” at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley won’t get these things off of your mind, but it will bring into sharp relief how little has changed since the early 1900s. It does so quite powerfully and brilliantly, while remaining hugely entertaining. This is the strongest musical production I’ve seen in a long time – surpassing the Broadway touring company of “My Fair Lady” at the Orpheum last November. This is how you do musical theatre, ladies and gentlemen: with passion, energy, and brilliant musicality.

There isn’t a weak performance from this fantastic company. Their voices are all powerful, and their harmonies stunning. With 15 performers covering more than fifty characters, calling this an ensemble piece is accurate. All the performances are wonderful, with most actors playing multiple parts.

Keith Pinto, who was recently reviewed for Hillbarn Theatre’s “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” is wonderful in his many roles – particularly as Harry Houdini. Suzanne Grodner is terrific as Emma Goldman, one of four characters she portrays.

Nkrumah Gatling as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. is particularly astounding. Such a powerhouse. His commitment to this character and the strength and passion of his performance is limitless. When you think he must be at the end of his abilities to express the frustration and rage he is feeling, he gives you more. He is the embodiment of the injustice that black people have had to face from slavery to George Floyd. It was as if we are in the presence of a holy event – the ghosts of the past and present seem to join in him, adding their strength to his. Mr. Gatling repeatedly moved me to tears.

Director Robert Kelley has led this wonderful group of performers quite handily. Wilson Chin’s fantastic, minimal sets work well. . Pamila Z. Gray’s lighting helps to set the beautiful tone. Costumes by B. Modern are fabulous.

Musical Director William Libertore leads the flawless Ragtime Orchestra. I must also give kudos to the outstanding work of fight director Jonathan Rider. 

Do yourself a favor: Go. Point yourself toward Mountain View. Take a car, a train, a bus, an Uber. Walk, if you have to. But make a point of seeing Ragtime. You will not be sorry.

 Ragtime continues at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts through June 26th. For further information click here.


Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.

“Ragtime” Book by Terrence McNally. Music by William Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Based on the novel “Ragtime” by E.L. Doctorow. Produced by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. Director: Robert Kelley. Musical Direction: William Libertore. Associate Director and Choreography: Gerry McIntyre. Scenic Design: Wilson Chin. Costume Design: B. Modern. Lighting Design: Pamila Z. Gray. Sound Design: Jeff Mockus. Wig/Hair Design: Lindsay Saier. Fight Director: Jonathan Rider. Dialect Coach: Kimberly Mohne Hill. Intimacy Coordinator/Production EDI Consultant: Maya Herbsman


The Little Boy: Jackson Janssen, Joshua Parecki. The Little Girl/Newsboy: Sydney Walker Freeman, Ruth Keith. Father/JP Morgan/Reporter: Noel Anthony. Mother: Christine Dwyer. Younger Brother/Policeman: Sean Okuniewicz. Grandfather/Child Buyer/Henry Ford/District Attorney Whitman: Colin Thomson. Coalhouse Walker, Jr.: Nkrumah Gatling. Sarah/Harlem Woman: Iris Beaumier. Booker T. Washington/Harlem Man: Michael Gene Sullivan. Harlem Man/Matthew Henson/Conductor/Black Lawyer: Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr. Sarah’s Friend/Harlem Woman: Leslie Ivy. Tateh: Leo Ash Evens. Harry Houdini/Admiral Peary/Willie Conklin/White Lawyer: Keith Pinto. Emma Goldman/Kathleen/Bureaucrat #1/Welfare Worker/Baron’s Assistan.t: Suzanne Grodner. Evelyn Nesbit/Brigit/Cub Reporter/Beaurocrat #2: Melissa WolfKlain.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s