Starring Thom Allison, Patty Jamieson, Jay Turvey. Book by Terrence McNally. Music by Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens. Directed by Jackie Maxwell. Shaw Festival Theatre, to Oct. 14.
The Shaw Festival’s big musical this year is a robust revival of the Broadway show Ragtime, a work that was first launched in Toronto in 1996. Based on E.L. Doctorow’s panoramic novel about America at the dawn of the 20th century, it follows the lives of three families—black, Jewish, and WASP—as they encounter both opportunity and social injustice. Thom Allison is powerful as Coalhouse Walker Jr., the radicalized pianist at the centre of the show. But Jackie Maxwell’s production is less satisfying as a drama than as a lively history lesson, with such colourful real-life figures as Emma Goldman (Kate Hennig), Harry Houdini (Kelly Wong), and Evelyn Nesbit (Julie Martell) dancing in the story’s margins.