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Super Summer Theatre season off to rocky start

Casual observers of local musicals deserve to be forgiven for thinking everyone in Vegas can sing and nobody can act.

Super Summer Theatre/Stage Door Entertainment’s outdoor “Ragtime” is another in a long line of offerings that’s heavy on dazzling vocals and weak on the reasons those vocals exist.

The 1998 Broadway show doesn’t have the comic zing of E.L. Doctorow’s paean to 1900s America. It’s too hell-bent on being inspiring to be funny. But it’s got enough pizzazz to get you hooked on the story.

There are several stretches in director Terrence Williams’ production that take your breath away, all having to do with rightfully overpowering solemn choral numbers. Williams knows how to pump up a production. But he’s sloppy with dramatic details.

“Ragtime” plays with the intersection of history and personalities that shaped our nation. Williams’ production doesn’t have personalities. It’s all histrionics and big moments.

Emma Goldman, America’s most famous female anarchist, is portrayed by Courtney Sheets with all the dangerous passion of a Kate Smith. Did anyone give any thought to what might make Goldman so obsessive? In the script, her moral fire transforms a character called Mother’s Younger Brother (Tony Blosser) from a wandering nobody to a dedicated killer. How could Kate Smith do that? No wonder then that Blosser’s a blur.

A character called Mother (Brandalee Bluth) goes through a painful process of rejecting the values of her dominant husband. But we don’t see the tiny shifts in thought that would lead to such a major reversal.

The plot is driven by Coalhouse Walker’s determination to get revenge for a racial incident. But gentle Keith Dotson doesn’t have revenge in his repertoire.

There’s lots of yelling in this production, as if to suggest Williams thinks screaming is what epiphanies are all about. This lack of character detail is fatal to a script in which character means so much.

It’s surprising how lackluster Steve Paladie’s scenery is. His uninteresting one-set design suggests nothing more than misguided budgeting.

But all that singing sure is nice.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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