Composer Stephen Flaherty, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, and librettist Terrence McNally's stage musical adaptation of E.L. Doctorow's novel Ragtime took a long time to get to Broadway, with full-scale productions in Toronto and Los Angeles dating back more than a year before the New York opening, and they used that time well. One need only compare the 1998 original Broadway cast album to the 1996 studio cast album (called Songs From Ragtime the Musical) to see the differences, as the later version is much refined and improved. A major difference, of course, is sheer length -- the Broadway version, on two CDs running more than two hours, is twice as long -- but that's an important distinction for a show as ambitious and broadly based as Ragtime. Doctorow's plot embraces both several dramatic stories and a group of historical figures for an extensive examination of social life in the U.S. at the turn of the 19th century, and the earlier disc seemed scattered, while the full-length version brings all the strains together. Flaherty's music, relying heavily on ragtime itself and other early 20th century popular styles, unifies the stories, and Ahrens' lyrics bring out the similarities of theme among them. The result is a tapestry that fulfills Doctorow's intentions admirably and competes successfully with the large-scale musicals of the 1980s that always seemed to come over from Europe. Brian Stokes Mitchell remains a standout in the cast but, among the improvements, the creators have found more for Audra McDonald to do (a neat trick, since her character is killed off at the end of Act I), and she too is impressive.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2