On Stage

Capsule reviews of current area stage shows.

Sideways Cedar Lee Theater
Kyle Primous as musician Coalhouse Walker leads - the JCCs cast of Ragtime, the Musical.
Kyle Primous as musician Coalhouse Walker leads the JCCs cast of Ragtime, the Musical.
Ragtime, the Musical -- It's easy to forget what a remarkable social invention the United States really is. No other country has ever brought together such widely disparate ethnic and religious groups, in such large numbers, to live relatively peacefully on the same turf. At least, that was the concept. E.L. Doctorow captured the innocence of this idea, along with its ugly dark side of bigotry and racism, in his novel Ragtime. This musical version is largely a genuine treat, offering the kind of sweeping imagery and large-cast singing and dancing that few theaters can mount anymore. Director Fred Sternfeld fills the enormous stage with a gaggle of impressive production numbers, but he's at his best in conveying the small moments when two people intersect or split amid the cultural forces at work. And while it would have been advisable for the composer and lyricist to cut a couple of the numerous heartfelt (but musically redundant) ballads and bring the show in under three hours, one can't deny the captivating result. Presented by the Jewish Community Center and Tri-C through November 14 at the Tri-C Eastern Campus, 4250 Richmond Road, Highland Hills, 216-382-4000 ext. 274. -- Christine Howey

Stonewall Jackson's House -- It's easy to be controversial: Just make a statement that goes against the currently accepted "liberal" conventional wisdom, and you're sure to ignite some arguments and maybe get yourself a book contract with Ann Coulter's publisher. At least, that was true in the mid-1990s, when Jonathan Reynolds wrote this often amusing but relentlessly self-congratulatory diatribe on myriad racial, gender, and theatrical issues. Given an earnestly overcranked production by a talented Karamu cast, this play begins intriguingly but devolves quickly into an extended screed that feels like one of the hundred or so right-wing radio shows now glutting the airwaves. Here, the good ol' paternalistic welfare state is trundled out for abuse, ignoring the fact that, since this play was written, federal funding has been largely ripped away from the deprived and funneled into the coffers of needy multinational corporations. Of course, these events of the last few years aren't the playwright's fault, but the script of Stonewall fails at levels other than lack of contemporary relevance; Reynolds has some interesting and occasionally compelling points to make, but these gems are buried in an ultimately insufferable avalanche of familiar wing-nut tirades. Through November 21 at Karamu Performing Arts Theatre, 2355 East 89th Street, 216-795-7070 ext. 226. -- Howey

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