20-Day Countdown! The Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime: #3: RAGTIME, 1998

Three days until the Tony Awards! We are at #3 on my 20-day Countdown of the Top 20 Tony Performances of My Lifetime.

Today we get another musical that sits nicely in my top ten of all time, the glorious Ragtime, based on the book by E. L. Doctorow and featuring the killer writing team of Terrence McNally, Lynn Ahrens, and Stephen Flaherty and the stellar original cast of Brian Stokes Mitchell, Audra McDonald, Judy Kaye, Lea Michele, and Marin Mazzie.

Ragtime tells four different stories from four different points of view -- the African-Americans in the streets of Harlem, headed by Ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker, Jr.; the upper-class white family of New Rochelle, headed by Mother; the immigrants flooding into America at the turn of the century, headed by the Latvian Jewish immigrant Tateh; and the voices, triumphs, and disappointments of real-life figures who led the world into the twentieth century, such as J. P. Morgan, Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Booker T. Washington, among others. When these worlds collide, what we get is more than a story: it is America unfolding.

The show opened on Broadway in January 1998, and ran for two years, closing in January 2000, after 834 performances.  The production received mixed reviews.  It was, indeed, a dazzling production, with fireworks, a working Model T automobile, elaborate costumes, and an $11 million budget (financed by Livent); and many critics felt this lavishness overshadowed some flaws in the script.  Regardless, the show led the 1998 Tony Awards with thirteen nominations, winning four, and giving the Tonys one of its closest contests in years, with tough battles between Ragtime, The Lion King, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Side Show, 1776, and Cabaret all competing in the same year.  Ragtime, mostly due to its lavish sets, was not a financial success, and many claim it was the undoing of Livent Productions, which had to declare bankruptcy after the financial failures of both Parade and Ragtime.

I, however, think this show has one of the most moving scores ever written and had one of the greatest original casts I could ever imagine putting together in one show.  And here they are, the entire cast in an abbreviated version of the introduction song, with Mazzie clutching that parasol for dear life and Mitchell pounding those keys like his heart will burst.  Simply doesn't get any better.

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