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Ragtime – a Sedos Production at the Bridewell Theatre, London

Updated on November 17, 2019
FrancesSpiegel profile image

The author is interested in how shows are put together. Through discussions with directors/musical directors she tells you how it's done.

Ragtime Dress Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal. Image by Dancers of London 2019. All rights reserved.
Dress Rehearsal. Image by Dancers of London 2019. All rights reserved. | Source

Worthy of an Award? – Definitely!

Sedos, one of London’s leading amateur theatre companies, presents “Ragtime” at the Bridewell Theatre.

This outstanding production follows a number of highly successful award-winning shows including Pippin, Urinetown and Earthquakes in London and must surely be a powerful contender for further awards.


Ragtime is a musical with music by Stephen Flaherty, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, and a book by Terrence McNally. It is based E. L. Doctorow’s novel of the same name.

Three Families in Pursuit of the American Dream

It’s a new century. Change is everywhere and nothing is impossible. This poignant musical explores historical events through the lives of three families all seeking the American Dream. in the melting pot that is New York, we step into the shows of an upper-class wife, a Jewish immigrant and an adventurous musician from Harlem. The three are brought together by their passion for, and belief in, a better future.

"Ragtime" Dress Rehearsal

Dress Rehearsal. Image by Dancers of London 2019. All rights reserved.
Dress Rehearsal. Image by Dancers of London 2019. All rights reserved. | Source

Director, Matt Gould, Spoke Exclusively to Frances Spiegel

For Sedos, Matt has directed Hapgood, Arcadia, House and Garden, A Man of No Importance, Into the Woods, Noises Off, London Road and Frankenstein. His Sedos musical direction credits include Grand Hotel, Rent, Parade, Victor/Victoria and Candide.

Frances Spiegel: What inspired you to direct this show?

Matt Gould: I've loved Ragtime ever since I was lucky enough to see the original production on Broadway back in 1998. I used to MD and it was top of my list, but it's such a big and epic show that I was concerned whether we could do it justice. Another project Ryan and I were planning fell through. We were talking about alternative suggestions and it turned out that Ryan loved the show as much as I did – so we both thought – let's give it a go! It is a story that needs telling. It is about good coming out of tragedy and how people and societies deal with change – very appropriate for times like now!

Frances Spiegel: The Bridewell isn’t like any other “normal” theatre. Does this create additional challenges for you?

Matt Gould: I love directing at the Bridewell – it is a special space with a unique relationship between performer and audience. I've been lucky enough to direct a few shows there and think I've got to grips with its charms – it's about creating an acting space that is versatile and works within the building's limitations. However, on this production we have a huge cast of 32 plus an enormous band – so the biggest challenge has been working out how to fit them all on stage!

Frances Spiegel: What specific qualities were you looking for at the auditions?

Matt Gould: The challenge was finding the mix of performers who had the necessary singing and acting skills – and who can also move! But then you've got to ensure the correct mix of voices as well – we weren't even sure whether we would be able to cast the show – but we were delighted with the talent that we found!

Frances Spiegel: Do you have a special “A-ha” moment when something that seemed almost impossible suddenly fell into place?

Matt Gould: Coalhouse's car is a very important theme in the show. It's very difficult to get a full-size car on the stage. I wanted to build it in front of the audience's eyes. Everyone thought it was silly idea. Steve (the set designer) and I spoke about it at length. A couple of days ago in rehearsal, the parts arrived – and it just "worked"! It's one of my favourite moments in the show!

"Ragtime" Rehearsal Image

"Ragtime" rehearsal. Image by David Ovenden for Sedos 2019. All rights reserved.
"Ragtime" rehearsal. Image by David Ovenden for Sedos 2019. All rights reserved. | Source

Musical Director Ryan Macauley Spoke to Frances Spiegel

Ryan, who has worked with Sedos on eleven previous productions, spoke exclusively to Frances Spiegel.

Frances Spiegel: When you held the auditions for this show, were you looking for any particular vocal qualities?

Ryan Macauley: The show is quite specific in its vocal demands, particularly when it comes to the main characters. Coalhouse needs to be a strong baritone, Mother a warm soprano with good belt, Tateh a strong all-rounder with great acting through song ability etc., etc.

We had a lot of talented singers audition for the show with very strong voices, but ultimately it came down to what was right for the show (and not just who had a great voice).

Frances Spiegel: You have a wealth of experience working with Sedos including shows such as Into the Woods, Urinetown and many others. What are the main similarities and differences in your approach to Ragtime?

Ryan Macauley: I think the approach to all shows is the same; the story and narrative have to come first. The well-written shows, which include Into the Woods, Urinetown and Ragtime all understand that and so it makes the approach far easier.

Across all three it was important that we taught the score at the beginning. When teaching the notes I try to include some of the ‘embellishments’ (attack, meaning, intonation, dynamic range) so that the cast have an understanding of what’s required from the very beginning. I think the way in which something is sung is just as important as the notes themselves, and so for me they go hand in hand.

Frances Spiegel: Were there any especially tricky musical challenges in this show?

Ryan Macauley: For me, I’m not really a pianist (I can get by), and this score is very demanding. I had to put in quite a lot of time practising just to be able to get through our rehearsals. Thankfully, I’m conducting the show away from the piano, so don’t need to worry about it from the technical rehearsal onwards!

Some of the ensemble singing calls for quite specific and detailed work and involved answering a lot of questions: where are we putting word endings? Do we sing through the phrase? What vowel sound are we using? What mood are we trying to create? We could spend 20 minutes just going over a couple of bars. It’s been tough but ultimately very rewarding and I’ve loved every second of it.

Frances Spiegel: Rehearsals for any production are hard work but a lot of fun and you create a store of great memories. What is your favourite thing about music rehearsals at Sedos?

Ryan Macauley: In Ragtime in particular my favourite thing has been the hunger of the cast to ‘get it right’. Many of them are huge fans of the show, and it’s been a joy for us to collectively reach a sound that we’re all happy with. I know I mentioned above that we could spend 20 minutes on a few bars. 99% of the time the cast loved that, because they understood the benefits of doing it. I think it’s quite rare to find that.

The Show Must Go On!

This is a truly outstanding production, lively, slick and colourful. Although Sedos describes itself as “amateur” there’s little doubt that their attitude to every production is totally professional.

Whatever happens the show must go on and this was one of those rare occasions when something did happen. A special mention goes to Jessie Davidson who stepped in to play Mother at extremely short notice (barely a couple of hours) when illness struck another member of the cast. Her performance, and indeed that of the entire cast, was superb!

Discovering and Developing New Talent

This is a highly successful amateur theatre company probably because they don’t just put on shows. Throughout the year numerous workshops and activities are run specifically to encourage members to develop existing skills and discover new skills in readiness for next year’s programme of exciting and challenging productions:

  • The Musical of Musicals (The Musical) – 25th-29th February 2020
  • Ophelia Thinks Harder – 31st March-4th April 2020
  • Working – 10th-16th May 2020
  • Love Valour Compassion – 7th-11th July 2020
  • Choose Your Own… Improv! – August 2020 at the Edinburgh Fringe
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – 16th-26th September 2020
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood – 27th-31st October 2020
  • Amadeus – 25th November-5th December 2020

Further information about Sedos workshops and performances can be obtained from their website. Ragtime is on at the Bridewell Theatre until 23rd November 2019.

Finding the Bridewell Theatre

Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, Fleet Street:
14 Bride Ln, London EC4Y 8EQ, UK

get directions

© 2019 Frances Spiegel


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