Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A highly musical novel

I read last week that one of my favorite musicals, Ragtime, is going to be revived in Broadway this September. The musical is based on the novel by E. L. Doctorow of the same title. I read it years ago when I was in college only because I was amused by the blurbs, which describe the novel's language as "musical."

Ragtime focuses on three groups of people during the turn of the 20th century -- a white upperclass family, an African-American piano player and his fiance, and a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe and his daughter. How the lives of these completely different people intertwine is the story of Ragtime.

Doctorow touches on several themes in Ragtime -- racial discrimination, the plight of immigrants, and the WASPs' denial that the face of America is changing. If you do decide to read this great novel, don't bother fact checking. I'm sure Doctorow took liberties with historical facts, especially since his minor characters include real historical figures such as Henry Ford, the vaudeville actress Evelyn Nesbitt, the radical Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini, just to name a few.

The music and lyrics of Ragtime: The Musical, by the duo of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, is beautiful. The tunes are immensely catchy and the musical numbers actually propel the storyline. There's none of those scenes where actors just burst into song during awkward moments.

I've uploaded two songs for you to sample, dear reader. If you like them, go buy the CD. The first song is about Henry Ford and his assembly line; the second is about how baseball has become "immigrant territory." Both songs are highly amusing.

Get the songs here:


Tina said...

Ah...Peter....you've almost written my Favorite from the Past column this week...I remember reading this years ago......................and I remember really enjoying the read, but I think it's time to dust this one off and put it back onto the TBR mountain. Thanks for jogging the memory.

Peter S. said...

Hi Tina! Thanks for the comment. Yes, I think this book merits re-reading.