Through music and story, the Tony-winning show links us to American’s collective courage and push to find the promise of a better future for all.

Just as Ragtime: The Musical was revving up at BDT Stage, the state began shutting down. Ragtime was set to play at BDT March 13 through May 30. I was fortunate enough to catch its last live show March 14, and wow is it a winner. Though the stage went dark for months, BDT is now streaming Ragtime live during the month of August, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, starting at 7 p.m.

BDT’s exceptional cast brings Ragtime’s story to life through stirring song, acting and costumery. BDT regulars like Tracy Warren (Mother) and Wayne Kennedy (Tateh) join outstanding BDT newcomers like Charles Ray King, Jr. (Coalhouse Walker), Camryn Torres (Sarah) and Emmanuel Davis (Booker T. Washington) in a rousing ensemble.

American Dream

The Tony-winning score depicts three families from diverse worlds pursuing the American Dream in turn-of-the-century New York. The three fragmented families encounter one another through a series of circumstances.

A white, upper-class woman (Warren) finds an African American baby and takes the baby and mother (named Sarah) into her home, despite criticism. Meanwhile, Sarah rails against Coalhouse Walker, (Charles Ray King, Jr.) a Harlem piano man and father of her child, who had done her wrong. Their scenes soar with emotion and spectacular ragtime music.

Meanwhile, a widowed man, Tateh (Kennedy) brings his young daughter (played by Prugh Dunfee or Clare McDonald, alternating) from Europe to America’s great melting pot, only to find that it’s not so great. As Tateh tries to sell his art on the streets to feed his daughter, one man is more interested in buying the girl — sadly, a topic that remains significant in today’s disturbing world of trafficking.

Yes, unfortunately, Ragtime is just as relevant in this day and age — when we’re still fighting discrimination — as it was when E.L. Doctorow wrote the novel in 1975. The story takes on social inequality and biases in a strong and powerful manner by blending fact and fiction: stories of famous men like Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan seamlessly intertwine with the struggles of African Americans, European immigrants and even upper-class whites.

Though the sometimes dark and violent story and emotions bear a heavy weight, the play itself manages to produce hope, optimism and heart. Of course, the range of rhythms — from up-tempo banjo picking, period parlor songs and bold brass band marches to refined waltzes and explosive anthems — are always best in person (along with BDT’s delicious entrees, desserts and drinks), the theater’s virtual offering is the next best thing.

Ragtime leaves us with a feeling that we’re not alone in these hard social and economic times. It reminds us that we are all human beings, striving for happiness in a very imperfect world. And, it links us, through music and story, to American’s collective courage and push to find the promise of a better future for all.

Watch a short video of scenes from ‘Ragtime’