In 2017—in our world of pop stars, rocks stars, social media, and iTunes—there’s a lot we take for granted. Like that the album by our favorite artist will be available for instant download or streaming. Like that anything Beyonce does will be an instant chart topper.
Like that women can be artists and performers, singers and composers.
But in the 1900s, that wasn’t the case. And that’s where the story of Ragtime Women begins.
Ragtime Women is the story of four women who defied social conventions and expectations and became successful ragtime composers and performers: Cora Salisbury, Julia Niebergall, May Aufderheide, and Gladys Yelvington. The show is full of its namesake music. While the music of the day (some of it written by the historical Julia, May, and Gladys) plays, the characters sing their stories of love, defiance, and work.
Cora Salisbury, a vaudeville performer, is an inspiration for Julia—so much so that she finds her way to Cora’s dressing room to ask her for advice. Julia loves music, especially ragtime, and wants nothing more than to make it in the business. Julia doesn’t care about what others think of her, and her independence is both inspiration and annoyance for her friends, May and Gladys. The three, with varying degrees of prolificness and passion, all publish original ragtime compositions. Despite their success (and sometimes because of it) the young women are forced to choose between their musical lives and traditional roles as wives and mothers.
You don’t need to be familiar with ragtime music or the time period to follow the show. Between the speaking parts and the songs, the characters fill in all the necessary gaps (and, the programs offer up extensive, very informative notes for those interested in diving deeper into the subject). It almost goes without saying, but the music adds a lot to the performance. The sounds paired with the costumes get audiences in the right mindset. However, at times, the songs did get a bit repetitive. Of course most songs have a chorus, but I do wish more time had been spent on character development and less on the same phrases.
Ragtime Women tells an important story. I’ll paraphrase one of the characters here: “It’s a man’s world. It’s not that you can’t do it. You can. Women just need to be a little more creative.” And though this show takes place long ago, it resonates in the modern day. Just as these four women had to choose between music and family, many women today have the same struggles, whether they are trying to balance careers with motherhood or break through glass ceilings.
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Running Time: 75 minutes, no intermission