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by Jon Dean
Friday, June 1, 2012
It’s always a good sign that the capital is swinging into summer mode when Regent’s Park opens for the season. And bathed in sunshine it truly is a glorious amphitheatre, one of the finest stages in the city.
There was a distinct air of celebration for the performance of Ragtime, the Open Air Theatre’s first production of 2012 as the eager crowd of punters, celebrities and journalists filed in and cracked open their wine and picnics.
Ragtime is a musical based on E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel and tells the story of immigration in early 20th century America.
Three main groups are represented; African Americans, the white upper classes and east European immigrants.
The story follows Coalhouse Walker Jr, a Harlem musician who suffers horrific racism, Mother, head of a well-to-do family in New York state and Tateh, a Latvian Jew struggling to provide for his daughter on the mean New York streets using nothing but his artistic talents.
The set design was fantastic - an almost post-apocalyptic wasteland with a ruined Barack Obama campaign poster gazing down on proceedings.
During the musical numbers, the cast strut through the debris in tightly choreographed movements, while some of the characters swoop across the stage with the aid of a giant crane.
Some of the singing is stunning, perfectly capturing the anguish of Coalhouse and Tateh, and ably assisted by the excellent band.
That said, the story itself seemed a bit dated - covering old ground that is hard for a UK audience to relate to - and the attempts to modernise it, mainly through contemporary costume, add confusion to an already jumbled narrative.
Despite this, Ragtime is still enjoyable and well worth a watch, while the building tension in the second half is emphasised perfectly as dusk descends on the skies.
Not the finest production you will see this year, but the music and surroundings still make it a memorable evening.
* Ragtime is at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, NW1, until September 8.