It’s astonishing to realize that Ragtime opened just ten years ago—January 1998. Its lush, emotional score with stunning to-the-rafters ballads and stirring group numbers feels so distant from the current trends on Broadway that it sounds like something from ages past.
Honestly, the score is so rich and expansive, it is quite difficult to pick only one great song from the spectacular Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens score. How does one choose among that stunning opening number, the beautiful harmony of “Journey On,” the fun of “The Crime of the Century,” Audra McDonald’s moving “Your Daddy’s Son,” the rousing “The Night that Goldman Spoke at Union Square,” and . . . well, you get the idea (and that’s not even finishing the music from the first act!).
In listening to “Wheels of a Dream,” it’s easy to miss the grand scores of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Indeed, there’s something to be said of the delicate, character-specific nuances of a song like Adam Guettel’s “Dividing Day,” but there’s also something to be said for the stirring, character-specific grandness of the songs in Ragtime. In “Wheels of a Dream,” we have two characters facing the journey of family life, the open road of their life together represented by the metaphor of a car. As anyone who has seen the show knows, however, their grand moment of dreaming will actually be only dreams, for the country that will let a man like Coalhouse “own a car, raise a child, build a life with you” will destroy his car, gun down his love, and leave his child in the arms of another man.
The melody is of the stirring anthem type, the grand emotional push that, while lacking the nuance that has unjustly wrought criticism on a number of other moving scores of this ilk, is pinpoint perfect for the hopes and dreams that Coalhouse holds for his family. Having had moments of great hope in my own life, they require larger-than-life musical colors to accurately portray. The fact that his hopes—expressed through the grandness of the melody—will never arrive in tact is even more affecting when remembering the depth of his hope in “Wheels of a Dream.”
If you are a younger musical theatre fan, and you are not familiar with the score to Ragtime, I couldn’t urge you more to check it out. It really is something extra special.
the Broadway Mouth
May 23, 2008