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Ragtime. As a musical, Ragtime inevitably lacks the complexity — as well as the violence and darkness — of E.L. Doctorow's wonderful novel, but it still has a thousand times more intelligence, charm and integrity than the average musical. As written by Terrence McNally, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the show is representational in style, with various members of the large cast coming forward in turn to narrate the story of the early twentieth century — and their own parts in it. The effect is panoramic, a living tapestry across which move characters both fictional and historic. A cascade of ragtime-inflected music powerfully illustrates the primary themes, which have to do with the divide between black and white in America, and the way the lives of all kinds of people bump up against each other in that vital, unwieldy phenomenon of the American melting pot. Ragtime tells the story of three families: a wealthy New Rochelle household, a Latvian immigrant and his little daughter, jazz musician Coalhouse Walker and his beloved Sarah, as well as their baby. Historical figures appear throughout: Emma Goldman; showgirl Evelyn Nesbit, who pops up to sing about the murder of her lover, architect Stanford White, by her husband — because what's an American story without a sensational murder? We also meet Henry Ford, the man who revolutionized the life of American workers; J.P. Morgan, forerunner of today's Wall Street profiteers; and Houdini, a magician who longs for a sign that magic is real. Latvian Tateh is fictional, but the formative influence of Eastern European Jews on Hollywood is definitely not. The most interesting and deeply imagined character is Walker, with his jaunty pride and willed blindness to racism, his dignity in the face of insult and then his violent radicalization. Among the many compelling performances and strong voices, Tyrone Robinson, tall and imposing, cocky and vulnerable, commands the stage. Presented at the Lone Tree Arts Center through October 16, 10075 Commons Street, Lone Tree, 720-509-1000, Reviewed September 29.

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