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MNfusion: Theater Latte Da's 'Ragtime' Brings 1900's To Modern Day

*A previous version of this article inaccurately stated that "Ragtime" took place in the 1920s. That has been corrected to accurately show the play was set in the 1900s.

For some, history is obsolete. Often, younger generations fail to see how people of the past relate to their lives.

But for any who question the relevancy of the subject, I encourage them to see Theater Latte Da's production of "Ragtime."

"Ragtime" first appeared on Broadway in 1996. It is based on a 1975 novel of the same name, which spoke about integration issues, racial tensions and gender equality in the 1900s.

With little-to-no adaptation, the theater company's performance alluded to parallels seen in today's culture.

(credit: CBS)

The story of "Ragtime" focuses on three families – an upper class Victorian family, a couple from Harlem and an immigrant father and daughter. All three become intertwined throughout the play's duration, but it is the story of the young couple, Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, from Harlem that dominates most of the show.

Traci Allen Shannon was a beautiful Sarah. Shannon's subtle arc from timid, scared and heartbroken to love-struck and determined made her character's story all the more heartbreaking. While her tormented ballad, "Your Daddy's Hands" had a nice softness to it, at times Shannon was a bit breathy. Shannon can certainly sing, but a bit more breath support during the quiet ballad would help it really shine.

As Coalhouse, David L. Murray, Jr. stole the show.

Not only does Murray, Jr. have a beautiful voice and range, of which the play showed off well, he had amazing control and tone. His rendition of "Make Them Hear You" resulted in almost a minute long applause.

Murray, Jr. also had control when it came to his acting. While his emotion permeated the theater, he used pauses, volume and tears to emphasize each moment of his characters arc. Murray, Jr. only lost this control slightly during the "Gettin' Ready Rag," as it appeared he was concentrated on the choreography.

The only other performance that perhaps rivaled Murray, Jr. was that of Britta Ollmann.

Ollmann's, who played Mother, porcelain ingénue looks made her the visually perfect Mother. But it was her characterization of Mother as the quiet, strong  matriarch of the house that made the character more.

What really allowed Ollmann to shine was the number "Back To Before."

As with other shows she has been in, Ollmann's lovely singing voice is made clear from the start. But it is when she is given the chance to truly belt out that her clear tone and vocal strength are seen.

The other performance worth notice was that of Soren Thayne Miller.

Miller played the young boy and brought an earnestness to the play that only that of a child can. His wide-eyed honesty was something lacking in his counterpart, Georgia Blando (Young Girl.)

The simple set of a handful of props, two scaffolding staircases and a piano allowed for the story to be the focal point of the play. The sparse set allowed for audiences to envision their own 1900s Harlem or Victorian home, and also allowed the parallels to today's society come through. With no blatant 1900s imagery, with the exception of the costumes, it was easy to believe the story took place in almost any decade.

In "Ragtime," Theater Latte Da does what art is supposed to do – produced a beautiful piece that allowed audiences to look critically at the past and what that means for the future.

"Ragtime" is Theater Latte Da's first show of the 2016 – 2017 season. It is also the first show at Ritz Theater now that the theater has become the company's home.

"Ragtime" is open now through Oct. 23. Tickets cost $45.  For more information, or to purchase tickets, visit Theater Latte Da online.

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