Metro Weekly

Ford’s “Ragtime” is almost “shockingly relevant” to what’s going on in America

Police brutality, women's rights and immigration all feature in the musical

Ragtime — Photo: Carol Rosegg

“Without fail, every night of our previews some audience member would walk by and say something akin to, ‘All of this was written years ago? None of it was written today? None of it was changed for today’s production?'”

It comes as no surprise for Ragtime director Peter Flynn, who says the show, adapted for the stage two decades ago and set in the early 1900s, is “almost shockingly relevant…reverberating as a current play, as a current examination of what’s going on in our country.”

Based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel and written by composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, with a book by Terrence McNally, the degree of Ragtime‘s relevance could not have been anticipated when Ford’s selected it two years ago to be the 2017 spring musical. But Flynn never doubted Ragtime would have an impact.

“In your three major plotlines, there is police brutality, women’s rights and immigration,” he says. “And then around those are relevant topics of obsession with celebrity and a confusion between politics and culture. The more we worked on it, the more we realized how relevant the story was going to be.”

A New York-based Associate Artist at Ford’s, Flynn worked with a group of collaborators — set designer Milagros Ponce de Leon, choreographer Michael Bobbitt, and lighting designer Rui Rita, who supplied dazzling silhouettes — to ensure the staging worked to “heighten or clarify or expedite the storytelling [such that] we’re clocking their arc through their journey as much almost visually as we are texturally or musically.”

Flynn notes a gentle irony in presenting Ragtime at Ford’s, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated more than 150 years ago. “There is more resonance because you’re watching an historical musical on that stage where one of the biggest moments of our American history took place,” he says. “All of us are very aware of that box seat hovering over us, stage left, and what that legacy has to do [with] what we’re creating on stage.” –Doug Rule

Ragtime runs to May 20 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th St. NW. Tickets are $18 to $64. Call 800-982-2787 or visit fords.org.

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.