The Duke University Department of Theater Studies and Hoof ‘n’ Horn proudly present the Tony Award-winning musical Ragtime.  This ground-breaking collaboration between students and faculty will involve 110 people, 3 academic departments, the Duke Chamber Players orchestra, and the South’s oldest student-run musical theater organization, Hoof ‘n’ Horn. Ragtime, based on the eponymous 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, offers a unique combination of modern musical theater with a classic American music.  This amalgamation garnered the original Broadway production in 1998 a record-breaking 13 Tony Award nominations and 4 Awards.


Book Synopsis
Ragtime follows three groups in collision at the dawn of 20th Century America.  The lives of a family of upper-class WASPs in suburban New York, an African-American couple in Harlem, and a small immigrant family in the Lower East Side all intersect as they all search for success in America.  Exhilarating and exciting, Ragtime offers a story for the whole family.  Please join us in celebrating this unprecedented partnership as Duke students and faculty to pay homage to the fusion of marches, cakewalks, gospel and of course, ragtime.

Act I

As Father leaves on a voyage to the North Pole, his ship passes a ship of Jewish immigrants bearing Tateh and the Little Girl, arriving in America for the first time. Father worries that Tateh “hasn’t a chance” in America, while Tateh thinks Father a fool for leaving.  Meanwhile, Mother unearths a newborn black baby buried alive in her garden, left there by her neighbor’s servant, Sarah. Mother agrees to house Sarah as she nurses her baby back to health.

Arriving with the immigrants, Tateh becomes a silhouette artist, struggling to achieve the American dream. Tenement life is so difficult that the Little Girl is often ill, and Tateh plans to leave New York to find the life he dreamed of. In Harlem, Coalhouse Walker fathered Sarah’s child and still loves her, even though she ran away from him, and resolves to win her back. She gave birth alone, frightened, and with extreme difficulty, which led her to unthinkingly bury her child. Coalhouse calls on Sarah in Mother’s home but she refuses to see him. Sarah finally forgives Coalhouse and they reunite.

Mother’s younger brother inadvertently stumbles into an anarchist rally, which converts him to the worker’s cause and eventually turns into a riot. Meanwhile, another riot is taking place at the textile factory in Lawrence, Massachusetts where Tateh now works. Tateh comforts the Little Girl with a flipbook when realizes that he has invented a lucrative product.

Returning home from a picnic, Coalhouse, Sarah, and the baby are stopped by a squad of volunteer firemen led by fire chief Willie Conklin, who attempts to extort an illegal toll from Coalhouse. Coalhouse threatens to find a police officer, but the firemen destroy Coalhouse’s car.  Believing that the vice-presidential candidate can help Coalhouse, Sarah decides to complain to him. As she approaches him, a passerby mistakes her for an assassin, she is killed by the secret service. At Sarah’s funeral, the white family, Coalhouse, and Sarah’s friends lament the loss and wish for justice regardless of race.

Act II

Coalhouse abandons his musical career and vows revenge, terrorizing New Rochelle and demanding that his car be restored with Will Conklin turned over to him Coalhouse vows arson on every firehouse until his demands are met.

Social workers attempt to take Sarah’s baby from Mother’s custody and the violence escalates, so Father temporarily moves his family to Atlantic City. Younger Brother seeks out Coalhouse, and offers to join his cause. The authorities in New Rochelle contact Father, hoping that he will be able to get through to Coalhouse. Father leaves, telling Mother he hopes they will be able to return to their happy lives. Mother, however, realizes that she can never go back to how things were before.

Coalhouse and his group take over the J. P. Morgan Library, a museum containing irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. Father suggests sending Booker T. Washington into the library to reason with Coalhouse. Washington convinces Coalhouse that he is leaving his son a legacy of murder and lies and Coalhouse surrenders peacefully under the condition that his men go free and he receives a fair trial. Coalhouse, encouraged by Father’s assurances that he will receive a fair trial, tells his men (including Younger Brother, who has provided the explosives knowledge to Coalhouse’s campaign) to continue the fight for justice but through peaceful means. They leave him, reluctantly, and as Coalhouse leaves the library, he is killed by the police.

The Epilogue shifts ahead in time to 1915. Characters narrate what happened to them in the aftermath of Coalhouse’s death, swelling to surround and support the newly formed family of Mother, Tateh, the little boy, the little girl, and the son of Coalhouse and Sarah.