CastAlbums.org: REVIEW: Nice Fighting You: A 30th Anniversary Celebration Live at 54 Below

Originally published on CastAlbums.org.


Nice Fighting You

Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty have the kind of versatility that makes it hard to consider their output as one body of work. Do the Caribbean rhythms of Once On This Island have anything in common with the Americana of Ragtime or the soft rock of Rocky? This new release on Broadway Records argues not only that they do, but that each of these scores and the rest of the Ahrens and Flaherty catalog bear revisiting.

Recorded live over the course of three nights at 54 Below, the New York City nightclub in the basement of Studio 54, Nice Fighting You offers 36 of the duo’s songs performed by a starry cast of Broadway talent, many of whom have (or, in one case, will) played these roles in original productions and Broadway revivals. Your favorites are all here, sounding their best: Liz Callaway revisiting “Journey to the Past,” which she introduced in the film Anastasia, Mary Testa proving she can belt “Rita’s Confession” and “Fancy Meeting You Here” from Lucky Stiff as thrillingly as she did in 1988, and Marin Mazzie proving that “Goodbye, My Love” and “Back to Before” work as well in a tiny cabaret as they did in the gigantic original production of Ragtime. Kevin Chamberlin‘s gentle reading of “Solla Sollew” from Seussical may leave you wondering how that show could have possibly flopped. And Jeremy Jordan‘s introduction of “Dancing Still,” from the upcoming Little Dancer may compel you to research tickets to Washington, DC, where the show will have its first production at the Kennedy Center this fall.

That new song isn’t the only surprise on the album. Continue reading

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JewishBoston.com: Don’t Wait to See RAGTIME at the Strand Theatre

Originally posted on JewishBoston.com.

Don’t tell your grandmother, but it’s time to head back to the old country of Dorchester to catch the Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s excellent new production of Ragtime: The Musical now playing at The Strand Theatre. The City of Boston is investing in reinvigorating this storied old theater as a center for arts and culture in the city, particularly for the communities of Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

Adam Shapiro as Tateh and Julia Deluzio as his daughter; photo by Matt McKee Photography

Ragtime is a particularly poignant show for the occasion, offering an epic story from the turn of the previous century, just prior to the opening of the Strand itself. With its focus on a segregated society of WASPs, African-Americans, and Jewish immigrants in New Rochelle, N.Y. — and what happens when those groups interact with each other — Ragtime could be the story of the history of Dorchester itself. But the musical, based on the novel by E. L. Doctorow, spins a tale of social evolution and personal assimilation, societal injustice and individual kindness, which explains why this production is sponsored by the ACLU. In the hands of playwright Terrance McNally, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and composer Stephen Flaherty, though, Ragtime never feels preachy or didactic. It’s simply a great evening of theater.

You know you’re in for something special from the opening number, which skillfully introduces not only 15 characters, but also the social dynamics at play among the three groups, made vivid through Anne McAlexander’s choreography and Jennifer Tremblay’s costumes. Meg Fofonoff’s direction keeps the story moving at a pace that belies the show’s three-hour length, and with a couple of brief exceptions in the second act, keeps the various plotlines clear. The 16-piece orchestra under the baton of Matt Stern is thrilling.

If I’m hesitant to single out any of the performers, it’s only because of the excellence across the board. Damian Norfleet’s rich baritone makes it easy to see why anyone would fall in love with his Coalhouse Walker Jr., making his eventual downfall all the more upsetting. Adam Shapiro as Tateh perfectly balances the pain of a single father repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to find a better life for this daughter with a comedic touch that keeps things from becoming too heavy. Shonna Cirone as Mother presents an incredible transformation over the course of the show, from a buttoned-up housewife at first to a powerhouse matriarch by the time she delivers the final anthem, “Back to Before.”

“Back to Before” may be Mother’s final anthem, but it’s not Ragtime’s, and therein lies one of the few problems with the show. The score, while beautifully reminiscent of the best Americana music, is overstuffed with anthems, from “Wheels of a Dream” to “‘Til We Reach That Day” to “Make Them Hear You.” While each song is worthy, all that declaration of purpose gets exhausting. Still, each carries an important message that resonates today, whether it’s about the pursuit of justice, the direction of progress, or the power of the American Dream. This is a show that will leave you not only humming the songs; you’ll also be discussing their messages. At least you will once you wipe the tears away.

On second thought, Ragtime may be the perfect reason to grab your grandparents and bring them back to the part of town they likely haven’t visited since their families fled to the suburbs in the fifties. Have them show you where they used to live and which churches used to be synagogues, and then after the show, talk about the issues raised by the performance and what we can do about them today.

RAGTIME runs at Dorchester’s historic Strand Theater, 543 Columbia Road in Boston, through October 7, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. and Thursday, October 4, at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices: $45-Orchestra, $39-Mezzanine, $35-Balcony, $32-Seniors and Children, $25-Students. For tickets or more information, please call 866-811-4111 or visit www.fiddleheadtheatre.com. For more information and group sales (10 or more), please call Show of The Month at 617-338-1111.

Photo of Adam Shapiro as Tateh and Julia Deluzio as his daughter by Matt McKee Photography.