Review: Ragtime paints a picture of racial-tensions with tragic and hopeful ends

By Tom Travis

Before a sold out opening night crowd, FIM The Flint Rep Friday night staged the last production of the season, with a rousing and relevant version of the musical Ragtime.  The play, which runs through June 25,  centers around the dilemmas of several characters mired in their struggles for justice and understanding of life.

In the opening number the cast of characters is introduced to the audience through song. The plots of each of the characters swirl and intersect with each of the other characters throughout the musical.

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Adapted from E.L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name and a musical score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the musical brings the tension-filled streets of early 20th century New York to life through the timeless stories of three Americans: a White female socialite, a determined Jewish immigrant artist, and a daring Black musician. Each story reveals the joys and perils of navigating social class, freedom, prejudice, hope and despair, helping patrons see the stories of today’s Americans in a new way.

“The issues explored in Ragtime – from racial injustice to immigrant rights and women’s rights – couldn’t be more relevant to 2023,” the Flint Rep director, Michael Lluberes, wrote in the program notes.

Tickets can be purchased at, FIM ticket center at Whiting Auditorium, Capitol Theatre or by calling (810) 237-7333.

In one of the musical’s opening songs, Journey On, it sets the stage of the varied journeys each of the characters will travel throughout the musical, set in the early 20th century. Tateh (Ben Cherry) and and his daughter (Marigold Entrekin)arrive in NYC after an arduous voyage at sea as hopeful Immigrants. An affluent White couple, only referred to as Mother (Robyne Parrish) and Father (Joel Gelman), debark on two separate journeys – Father sets off on a boating exhibition to Alaska while Mother stays home to foster a Black baby she finds left in her garden, the child of another lead character, Sarah. Mother and Sarah (Elexis Morton) foster a friendship that her husband, Father, does not approve of upon his return.

Coalhouse Walker (David Aron Damane) and Sarah (Elexis Morton) in Ragtime (Photo by Mike Nadeo)

Father returns after a year to find Mother caring for their own son and Black baby. Father finds it impossible to accept the way things are changing in his life and the world around him. While Mother’s true self flourishes to embrace her progressive and broadminded philosophy that ultimately drives her and her husband apart. Coalhouse Walker (David Aron Damane), a Black man, struggles to repair a broken relationship with Sarah who now lives with their infant son in the home of the White affluent Mother and Father’s home. Coalhouse and Sarah offer a powerful and emotional duet in the song Wheels of a Dream.

Most of the cast members play multiple characters distinguished by simple costume changes to alert the audience to which character they’re portraying. There are four historical characters portrayed Booker T. Washington (Ronald E. Spriggs), educator and author and a prominent leader in the African-American community in the late 19th century and early 20th century; Emma Goldman (Karen Sheridan), a Russian-born immigrant who led the anarchist political movement in the early 20th century; Harry Houdini (Chris French), born in Hungary and who was an escape artist and stunt performer; and Evelyn Nesbit (Emi Fishman), an American chorus girl and actress who performed mainly in NYC and died at the hands of a violent love triangle.

The orchestra consists of two spinet pianos. One on each side of the stage. The two pianists, seemingly flawless in their performance, kept the flow of music throughout. The featured music is a ragtime type of music but the music varies from soft ballad styles to broad, forceful chords.

The acting and vocal talent, including timing, choreography and scene changes all seemed at their best for opening night.

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The audience was exuberant in robust applause after each musical number. Sometimes the applause began even before the last note was sung. The cast was met, in the end, with a standing ovation and cheers from the audience.

Ragtime opens Friday June 9  at the Elgood Theatre and run through June 25.  Tickets are available at, at the FIM Ticket Center box offices at FIM Whiting Auditorium and FIM Capitol Theatre, or by calling (810) 237-7333. Genesee County residents receive a 30 percent discount as a benefit of the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage.

Next season for FIM The Flint Rep begins in September with Rain on Fire by Karen Saari. “This ofetn funny and surprising drama follows a family dealing with the opiate crisis in Michigan’s northwoods,” according to Lluberes. In November, Little Shop of Horrors in Concert will appear at FIM Capitol Theatre. Other productions in the next season include Into the Side of a HillEdward Albee’s Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Spring Awakening and a New Works Festival. A complete line up of next season’s productions can be found at FIM The Flint Rep’s link.

EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at

Author: Tom Travis

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