Cast, direction make `Rags to Riches' a treat

Review

May 16, 2002|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In Musical Artists Theater's current production of Rags to Riches, we are transported to New York City as it may have existed 100 years ago. This NYC vision is the creation of playwright, lyricist and director Michael Hulett, assisted by his wife, Ruth Hulett, who serves as music director, costume designer and voice coach.

For the production, which opened last weekend at the Chesapeake Center for the Creative Arts' Studio Theater, Hulett reworked a play that he originally completed more than 20 years ago. Having been requested to write original songs for an old-fashioned melodrama, this award-winning playwright chose to write words for Scott Joplin's singable, syncopated melodies. He turned to Joplin's contemporary, Charles Taylor, for the words that carry the melodrama.

After trimming in half Taylor's four-hour morality play Rags to Riches, Hulett found a near-perfect fit for Joplin's ragtime tunes.

Hulett's lyrics sparkle with wit, and they define such broadly drawn characters as: orphan siblings Flossie and Ned, who are victims of Wall Street speculator Charles Montgomery; his ne'er-do-well son Charlie, who perhaps is the original Good-time Charlie; and his naughty accomplice, actress Flora. The play also includes do-gooders like Gertrude, who is a wife, mother, and nurse, Albert, a former father turned surrogate mother, Officer Dooley, who is burdened with a conscience, Montgomery's secretary Miss Brown and Mother Murphy, keeper of the Bowery Mission.

These characters are given life by a group of talented actors. Jason Kimmell is deliciously dastardly in the dual roles of father and son Montgomery. And I was astonished at how much his singing has improved, from adequate in a recent production of The King and I to thoroughly accomplished here. Kimmell's always-excellent dancing again displays his winning combination of grace and athleticism.

Chesapeake Center newcomer Tiffany Krysztofiak romps through the role of Flossie, delighting in her conquest of Charlie as she gains access to his credit cards and savoring the line "You're so hard to resist, but leading you on is more fun."

Tiffany's real-life father, Milton Krysztofiak, who plays Officer Dooley, is also a real-life 33-year veteran of the Baltimore City Police Department. He returns to the stage after a 22-year absence to play opposite his daughter.

As the wicked actress, Flora, Ruth Hulett has so much fun that she steals almost every scene she is in. She also sings beautifully, providing superb lessons in diction for everyone with well-tuned ears.

As Gertrude, Joanna Boales conveys all that is required of an abandoned wife, loving mother and nurturer. High-school junior Bob Proctor is convincing as Flossie's brother, ambitious newsboy Ned.

David Leisure does his usual first-rate job, here in the dual roles of Albert Cooper, who is Montgomery's duped partner, and as adoptive guardian of Ned and Flossie.

As director, Michael Hulett keeps the traffic moving smoothly in this sometimes wildly active play, and he sees that his every line is given proper emphasis by his cast of actors.

Costumes and sets are artistically understated and charming. The music is generally inviting, although I found Joplin's tunes to be occasionally repetitious.

Still, Rags to Riches is a relaxing way to spend a few hours in delightful company. Performances are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays through May 26. Tickets are priced at $12 for Chesapeake Center members and $15 for non-members. Call the box office at 410-636-6597 to order tickets.

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