Staatstheater, Kassel
2017-05-25 • 19:30

The Hessian city of Kassel might only have 200,000 inhabitants, it is also home to Documenta, a major contemporary art rendezvous, as well as to a theatre capable of putting on a mind-blowing production of Ragtime, that masterpiece of 20th century musical theatre.

As most local German operas, Kassel’s Staatstheater can rely on a resident orchestra as well as a resident troupe of singers, dancers and actors. They all rose superbly to the challenge of presenting a work that is incredibly demanding in all areas.

The large orchestra felt surprisingly at ease with the highly syncopated nature of the score. Under Xin Tan’s enthusiastic direction, William David Brohn’s fantastic orchestrations never sounded better, with especially blissful performances coming from the brass section.

The principals were not only of Broadway calibre, but they compared quite favourably to the original cast. I don’t think I’ll ever hear another production where the overall quality is so strong and so homogeneous, from the riveting Coalhouse of Alvin Le-Bass to the fantastic Mother of Monika Staszak. As a result, ensemble numbers came through very strongly; I don’t think the final sections of “Journey On” or “New Music” had ever touched me so much… to say nothing of “Till We Reach That Day” (led by an incredible soloist — the best I’ve ever heard).

I counted more than 45 people on stage during the opening number. Rarely has that glorious number been given such a felicitous rendition. The inclusion of a “skating ballet” during “Gliding” was a very nice touch, perfectly in sync with the lyrics.

What made that production particularly distinctive was its sharp directorial touch, particularly during the songs. No character ever remained alone on stage to sing to the audience; they always remained in situation and kept interacting with the other characters. There were a few minor choices that I disapproved of during the course of the play, especially when the action strayed briefly from the libretto, but that was nothing compared to all the illuminating choices made throughout the production.

“He Wanted To Say” was omitted. What a shame.

Music: Stephen Flaherty. Lyrics: Lynn Ahrens. Book: Terrence McNally, adapted into German by Roman Hinze. [The songs were performed in English.]
Direction: Philipp Kochheim. Musical direction: Xin Tan. With Alvin Le-Bass (Coalhouse), Monika Staszak (Mother), Dionne Wudu (Sarah), Randy Diamond (Tateh), Mike Garling (Father), Markus Schneider (Younger Brother), Darrin Lamont Byrd (Booker T. Washington), …

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