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Ragtime

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Turn off your T.V., put the kids in the freezer and make tracks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse to see Point Park University Conservatory's production of Ragtime, the musical adaptation of the E.L. Doctrow novel.

This is a mammoth work, almost majestic in scope, showing America at the beginning of the 20th century. Terrence McNally, the book writer, has boiled down Doctrow's sprawling work to three main stories: A privileged white family, a young black couple, and a Jewish immigrant father and daughter. Their lives interconnect throughout the evening and, in the process, Ragtime celebrates what it means to be an American.

Ragtime celebrates the American Musical Theatre as well. The score by Pittsburgh native Stephen Flaherty is a compendium of American musical styles: ragtime, blues, jazz and musical theater itself. Lynn Ahrens' lyrics are intelligent and heartfelt, and the combined power of this team cannot be overstated. The opening number is certainly the most thrilling 15 minutes in the history of musical theater, and a true trial by fire for any company brave, or foolish, enough to undertake it.

And there I was sitting in my seat at the Playhouse, literally sobbing because of this first-rate Point Park production. It exhausts me to think how exhausted the cast and crew must be. But if whatever they went through to get where they got involved a little pain ... well, I feel sorry, but too bad.

Broadway veteran Michael Rupert is in town to direct -- and direct he does, from the immense silhouette of the show's outline to the smallest detail of a supporting player's tiniest bit of business. Huge hand for the design team: Lloyd Sobel (lights), Pei-Chi Su (costumes), Michael Essad (set), Lily Wasik (hair and makeup) -- and stage manager Kate Marchewka, who's probably hidden away in a closet right now eating oxygen. And Douglas Levine's musical direction is of the same sterling quality as Zeva Barzell's choreography.

And I've saved the best for last: This cast. This glorious student powerhouse company and its jaw-dropping work. To say that a few of them might not be experienced enough to play who they played misses the entire point of a college theater production. As I was sitting there, crying, I didn't want to see anyone else in front of me except these kids. But I couldn't live with myself if I didn't single out a few -- with the understanding that mentioning the luminous Ross Lekites, Sean Philbin and Ali Reed in no way negates the work of the rest.

Congratulations to everyone involved.

Ragtime continues through Sun., Nov. 12. Pittsburgh Playhouse, 222 Craft Ave., Oakland. 412-621-4445

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