Required Listening – Ragtime

Nick Hutson chooses the Prologue from Ragtime (1998) by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty:

“Many consider Ragtime to be one of finest musicals of the 20th century and the Prologue one of the best opening numbers ever written for musical theatre. Whilst the 3rd person narrative storytelling might not be to everyone’s taste, one can’t deny the song does an amazing job at introducing every main character in the piece; the show’s key musical motifs (adapted from the show’s main 7 note “hook” that opens the whole show); desires, wants, friction and everything else an opening number needs. 

The opening builds from a simple piano introduction (not too quickly… take note, wannabe jazz pianists; ragtime is not fast) and builds into a full orchestral tour-de-force which was orchestrated by – the maestro himself – William David Brohn.  Bill won his only Tony Award for his work on Ragtime in 1998 and many consider his orchestrations to be some of the finest in musical theatre. The orchestral colours and stylings combine ‘cakewalk’,’ Harlem stride’, ‘klezmer’ and of course, Ragtime which is used to represent an ever-changing musical world.  

The lyrics by Lynn Ahrens also help to capture a massive time of change in America: 

“It was the music
Of something beginning,
An era exploding,
A century spinning
In riches and rags,
And in rhythm and rhyme.
The people called it Ragtime…”

This show seems more important nowadays – so put down Dear Even Hansen and The Worst Greatest Showman and listen to a musical that combines historic storytelling for our age – blended with whit, political thinking and the best examples of how new music can be created from the music of the past.”