Theater Review

Lackluster tour of Ragtime beset by technical problems

Lackluster tour of Ragtime beset by technical problems

Dallas Summer Musicals presents Ragtime
Living the American Dream in New Rochelle. Photo by Scott Suchman

There's a hashtag ​called #AskIfItsEquity that inspires fierce reactions from both theater professionals and audience members.

It encourages patrons to consider if the splashy tour they're buying a pricey ticket for is supported by Actors Equity Association — if it's not, folks might be paying Broadway prices for productions that cost less to produce and don't adhere to the standards of the union.

The current national tour of Ragtime is one such example, as it's a non-Equity production that's plagued by inexperience. Non-Equity doesn't automatically translate to poorer quality, mind you (2014's Non-Eq tour of Nice Work If You Can Get It was utterly charming), but it might be a bit of a shock to audiences who shelled out big bucks expecting a show on the same scale with Dallas Summer Musicals' last Equity tenant, Wicked, and getting something much less impressive.

To start with, Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' luscious score is here performed not by an orchestra or even a small band, but by a CD. This results not only in a flatter sound quality, but it makes it easier for the young cast to get out of rhythm.

Some of the cast — heavily populated with new grads — is quite impressive, especially Leslie Jackson as the reluctant new mother, Sarah, and Matthew Curiano as the Jewish immigrant, Tateh.

Too bad we can't hear most of them, as "North Texas' best sound system" cracks and pops with alarming regularity. Yes, that's an actual quote from DSM chair-elect Randy Wright, who laughably boasted about the Music Hall's notoriously fickle tech specs in the press release announcing the termination of longtime president Michael Jenkins.

To reduce feedback, sometimes the ensemble's microphones are turned off completely. Super awkward when one of them has a line to deliver or a small solo to sing and deflating during the big whole-cast numbers.

Because the show's unwieldy story, based on E.L. Doctorow's novel and adapted by Terrence McNally, relies on every single line to spell out what's happening to all these characters in 1904 New York, it wouldn't be surprising if audience members are completely lost before intermission.

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Ragtime plays at the Music Hall at Fair Park through June 5.