Cast Size: No Chorus • Small (1-10) • Large (14+). Vocal Demands: Moderate. Dance Requirements: Minimal. Good For: High School • College/University • Amateur/Community • Professional Theatre • Religious Organization.
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THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG and DOUBLE TROUBLE are now available for performances by ALL customers. read more
R&H chats with Mark Saltzman whose musical play, THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG, recently made its New York debut. read more
Written By: Mark Blankenship , July 15, 2009
Written By: John Simon , July 15, 2009
Pop Stars of the Past, Berlin, Joplin Jam in "Rag'
July 15,1009 (Bloomberg, John Simon )
The likable "Tin Pan Alley Rag," slightly bigger than a vest-pocket musical, has the unassuming charm of a winsome pet that gently nuzzles you. It imagines a meeting and daylong music session between Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin.
This unlikely (and ahistoric) jam session, presented by New York's Roundabout Theatre Company, proves invigorating to both composers as suspicion yields to mutual respect and an unrealized business transaction fills them with renewed faith in their work.
As Mark Saltzman, the book writer would have it, Joplin, who was black, shows up at the Tin Pan Alley music publishing house of Berlin and Teddy Snyder, both white, some time in the early 20th century. Joplin is trying to interest them in his ragtime opera "Treemonisha." Snyder would dismiss this unsolicited visitor, but young Berlin, though opera-averse, is interested.
Berlin, whose "Alexander's Ragtime Band" was one of his first and biggest hits, considers himself to be the King of Ragtime. So does Joplin, whose "Maple Leaf Rag" helped define the syncopation-heavy musical genre.
Their rivalry recedes behind what unites them: Both had to overcome obscure, impoverished beginnings; both were members of a socially underprivileged minority; each lost a beloved wife after the briefest of marriages. (This was true of Berlin, though somewhat fictionalized about Joplin.)
In "The Tin Pan Alley Rag," Joplin and Berlin reminisce for each other's benefit and play on two onstage pianos their own or the other's music, sometimes even as a duet. The story shifts to various crucial moments in their lives -- at least as the clever Saltzman imagines them -- and then always back to that publishers' office.
Some of it is factual, much of it invented, in a partly humorous, partly sentimental way. It is, to quote a formulation by Anatole France, "a story truer than the truth," as if to say: This is how we wish it, how it ought to have happened.
The show plugs into a favorite American myth, equal parts fact and fantasy, that Jews and blacks shared a collegial empathy and struggle. Certainly what we see onstage -- a black man and a Jew in musical and existential harmony -- is socially and spiritually heartening.
Pleasing, too, is hearing quite a bit of Berlin's earlier and lesser known but attractive songs, as well as a goodly sampling of Joplin's compositions, some in need of wider exposure. And along with this, some spirited music by other composers from Stephen Foster to Brahms, and some new-minted pieces by Brad Ellis with lyrics by Saltzman. Notable, too, are arrangements and orchestrations by music director Michael Patrick Walker. Walker and Brian Cimmet also provide the excellent piano playing.
All praise to Stafford Arima's fleet yet unsuperficial direction. The gifted set designer Beowulf Boritt has provided scenery that slides and twists, turns inside out and outside in, gracefully conveying locations as diverse as the Little Rock, Arkansas railroad station and a nightclub in Havana. Lisa Gennaro has devised some pungently idiomatic dances, Jess Goldstein has provided a rainbow coalition of costumes and Howell Binkley's lighting performs a number of neat tricks.
The Canadian actor Michael Therriault is a terrific Berlin, droll, bemused, brash or touching, all perfectly apportioned. Michael Boatman invests Joplin with exemplarily quiet dignity and, when called for, stirring indignation. In a fine supporting cast, Michael McCormick as Teddy Snyder and Idara Victor in several parts are especially winning.
If you've been stung by such noisy recent musicals as "Rock of Ages" and "Next to Normal,"The Tin Pan Alley Rag" should prove the perfect antidote.
At the Laura Pels Theater, 111 W. 46th St. Information: +1- 212-719-1300; http://www.roundabouttheatre.org. Rating: ***
Written By: Mark Blankenship , July 01, 2009
When Scott Met Irving... or Didn't
July 1, 2009 (The New York Times, Mark Blankenship)
IT'S one of Mark Saltzman's favorite moments in his play with music, "The Tin Pan Alley Rag," and he won't even take the credit. Near the end of the show, which imagines a meeting between the composers Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin, Joplin responds to a painful memory by playing "Bethena," a ragtime waltz he wrote in 1905. And when he plays, nothing else happens. There are no words, no dances, no set changes. There's just the sound of a classic piece of American music.
"The Tin Pan Alley Rag" is in previews at the Roundabout's Laura Pels Theater (it opens July 14), and for Mr. Saltzman, who's been a fan of Joplin's ragtime for more than 30 years, the wordless scene is a risk that pays off. "It's kind of rare in the theater for it all to boil down to a piece of music," Mr. Saltzman said. (That music is played live by offstage pianists while actors sit at pianos, hands obscured.) "You wonder if people are going to be fidgety, or if they're going to say, "We didn't pay for a piano concert." "
"I'm so happy when I see that the audience is listening to this music as intently as if they're listening to dialogue," he said. "I feel some kind of personal triumph about that."
Yet despite the "Bethena" moment, "The Tin Pan Alley Rag" is not a jukebox musical (or Victrola musical) of hits from pre-Depression America. Mr. Saltzman and the director, Stafford Arima, have created a show about the lives, work and aesthetics of two influential songwriters without relying heavily on their songs.
Joplin's and Berlin's tunes do figure throughout the production, but they are often subservient to the plot. Joplin (Michael Boatman) might play a section of his "Maple Leaf Rag," but it underscores a scene about his past. The ensemble might sing "I Love a Piano," an early chestnut from Berlin (Michael Therriault), but the number is interspersed with dialogue.
Mr. Arima, who is best known for directing splashy musicals like "Altar Boyz" and (coincidentally) "Ragtime," said he likes using the music this way. "Our instincts in the musical theater are about buttoning the numbers or extending them," he said. "By avoiding that musical comedy feel, we allow the audience to focus on the story instead of the greatest hits. I want them to discover who these men were and not just wait for the next song they know."
Strangers to the history of American music can learn from the show. Mr. Saltzman may have invented the relationship between his lead characters, but he includes facts about their troubled personal lives and their enormous influence on the nascent pop-music business, which was often boosted by sheet-music sales of a Joplin rag or a Berlin hit.
Mr. Arima said he feels that highlighting the composers' lives could instill new appreciation for their music. "If all you know of someone is that they were perfect and they wrote perfect music, then they're untouchable," he said.
Audiences can also learn from the musical styles alone. Joplin's early ragtime tunes sound starkly different from his ambitious opera "Treemonisha," written a few years before he died in 1917. When the ensemble performs a snatch of the opera, it's striking to realize how much he evolved. Berlin, meanwhile, is represented by "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and other songs from the beginning of his career. While they rarely stray from the Tin Pan Alley formula he perfected, they exhibit his genius for delivering exceptional variations on a theme.
These compositions also demonstrate the conflict between art as personal expression and art as commerce. Mr. Saltzman's plot hinges on Joplin's unsuccessful attempts to publish "Treemonisha," and when he asks Berlin to back him, they clash over whether music should be creative or profitable. The question is moot for "Treemonisha," of course, since by the time it had its premiere with a full production in 1972, Scott Joplin's music had already passed from commercial viability into canonized respectability.
But for Mr. Saltzman, Joplin's decision to write the piece was an act of artistic integrity. "If you're Joplin, why would you want to risk an opera?" he said. "There's the ridicule that could come from people saying: "Where do you get off, writing like you're Puccini? Why defy the fact that you're comfortable, wealthy, famous?" "
Mr. Saltzman added, however, that things weren't as simple as Joplin the Artist and Berlin the Industry, and that both men strove to balance those extremes.
The struggle between art and business is partly what drew Todd Haimes, the Roundabout artistic director, to the play. "I'm not sure which perspective is correct," he said. "Sometimes art can be commercial, and sometimes being a martyr doesn't serve anybody. Who's to say that "God Bless America," " which Berlin wrote, "isn't as great as "Treemonisha?" "
Mr. Haimes said he faces these questions when he's programming the Roundabout's season and that engaging the company's 42,000 subscribers sometimes means eschewing untested work in favor of proven titles. While the company does produce smaller productions of new plays - including this year's "Distracted," a comedy about the attention-addled Internet age, and 2007's "Speech & Debate," a dark high school romp - the company's mainstage slate generally features stalwarts like "Waiting for Godot,"Hedda Gabler" and "Pal Joey."
"Does that make our work any less valid, or is it just valid in a different way?" Mr. Haimes asked. "I constantly get into this argument."
Written By: Elyse Sommer , July 15, 2009
The Tin Pan Alley Rag
July 2009 (Curtain Up, Elyse Sommer)
Mark Saltzman, the author of The Tin Pan Alley Rag, has imagined a meeting between two kings of American music: Irving Berlin (1888 - 1989) and Scott Joplin (1868 - 1917). Saltzman, a writer for Sesame Street as well as for films and theatre, makes no claim that such a meeting has been documented or is known to have taken place; however he has placed the meeting within the realm of possibility. That possibility is considered quite entertainingly under the direction of Stafford Arima (Altar Boyz). It's an amiable show that is not unlike a primer on Berlin and Joplin, as well as on the circa 1911 era that was set to define American pop music. Michael Boatman as Joplin and Michael Therriault as Berlin are able to credibly personify these unique musical immortals, a primer in performance craft.
In the period prior to World War I, Berlin and Joplin were renowned and reigned supreme in their respective fields in an industry largely controlled by the music publishers along Manhattan's 28th Street. Joplin, who had cornered a portion of the pop market with his rag-time melodies, had a huge hit with "Maple Leaf Rag." Because he was classically trained he was not satisfied with his career and had a hope of being recognized for his classical compositions.
Berlin was riding high with songs such as "When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam," "I Love a Piano" and his most recent super hit "Alexander's Ragtime Band." At the beginning of the 20th century the publishers' offices were beehives of musical activity churning out songs by both aspiring and established composers of popular music. In a very amusing early scene we get to meet some of the considerably less talented but always hopeful hacks as they plug and perform their tortured rhymes and formulaic melodies. Sheet music was the medium then and it made fortunes for a few like Berlin. The Tin Pan Alley Rag takes place in one of these offices, whose walls (as impressively designed by Beowulf Boritt) have a way of moving and transporting us efficiently to many other locations.
It is doubtful if the author of this sweet and sentimental diversion got his cue from German playwright Friedrich Schiller who also chose to dramatize a meeting that never happened between two queens - Elizabeth the 1st and her rival for the throne of England Mary Queen of Scotts. In the case of Berlin and Joplin, nobody's head was or is at stake. We may therefore ask, where's the conflict? The answer: Can Joplin convince Berlin to put in a good word with his publisher/partner Teddy Snyder (Michael McCormick) that might help him get his ambitious and serious folk opera Treemonisha produced? And will Berlin be able to get his head together and write some serious music?
As you might expect in a show about Berlin and Joplin, the songs are recognizable, delectable and danceable, the latter particularly graced by Liza Gennaro's rag-timed choreography. The show makes generous use of early Berlin songs, as well as Joplin's folk ballet scores as a bridge for flash-backs into their respective lives, but without the songs being consigned to defining character.
A fine supporting cast of singers and dancers often appear out of the ether to enhance a song as well as to play peripheral/multiple characters. Mark Ledbetter is standout as a vaudevillian. Think of the old bio film musicals like Words and Music and Till The Clouds Roll By where the composer sat a piano and sang his song to the rich producer or to his lover and the scene would segue to the stage of a theater or other location.
There are segues to different places and Boatman and Therriault are quite good at pretending to play the two pianos. As each is seated at a piano (the keyboards faced away from the audience), Joplin gives the less musically sophisticated Berlin a lesson in counterpoint with "Play a Simple Melody," a joyously executed duet. Michael Patrick Walker and Brian Cimmet should be credited as the accomplished but unseen pianists.
Therriault, who played Motel in the last Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof, is an immediately engaging and lively Berlin - to whom he bears a striking resemblance. His performance gracefully distinguishes Berlin as a man conditioned by heartbreak but consumed by a need to succeed. Boatman is better looking than the serious and impassioned Joplin, but his performance as the man who worked his way up from being an itinerate piano player in brothels to "King of Ragtime," is very fine indeed.
While these titans of early American popular music were neither rivals nor adversaries during the heyday of the now legendary Tin Pan Alley, they each had distinctly different long-term objectives. Berlin, the son of Russian-born immigrants couldn't read music but he had drive, discipline, and an incomparable talent for writing hit songs. Although recognized as the most American of pop composers, his early songs ("Sweet Italian Love" and "Moishe Sings an Irish Song") often capitalized on ethnic humor. There is a funny glimpse of that early part of his career with Berlin as a boastful and brash singing waiter on the lower East Side. These songs nevertheless catapulted him into the mainstream.
There is a touching moment in the play in which Berlin sits alone at the piano and attempts to complete a piece of music that would stretch his talent. We can also see how success at what he did best has its rewards. Amazingly, (and not dealt with in this play) is that Berlin was destined to write memorable musical scores for Annie Get Your Gun and Call Me Madam among others that, if not as lofty as an opera, could be said to be admirable expressions of his highest musical ability.
There is poignancy and shared-grief in the relationship between these talented men when they become aware that each has suffered a similar loss. Berlin's first wife, a vivacious Dorothy Goetz (Jenny Fellner), died suddenly from typhoid fever contracted on their honeymoon in Havana and Joplin's second wife Freddie Alexander (Idara Victor), a perky, well-educated woman with political aspirations died from pneumonia only 8 weeks after they were married.
Joplin, who suffers occasional seizures due to an advanced case of syphilis, is dead at the age of 49 in 1917. He didn't live to see the first professional production of Treemonisha by The Houston Grand Opera in 1975, a production subsequently presented on Broadway and earning a Tony nomination as well as being awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1976. A short segment of the opera is presented in a climactic scene as an 87-year-old Berlin attends a performance. Joplin was to achieve his greatest recognition, however, when his ra time music was revived for the 1973 film The Sting. Berlin was 101 when he died in 1989.
This show is a loving tribute to the spirit of ragtime and to two of the 20th century's most spirited composers. It's Off-Broadway production was preceded by one seen in January 2006, at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre in Jupiter, Fl.
There is no known family tie between the author of the play and the writer of this review.
Written By: Brendan Lemon , July 15, 2009
The Tin Pan Alley Rag
July 15, 2009 (Financial Times, Brendan Lemon)
No record exists of a meeting between Irving Berlin, the best-selling songwriter in American history, and Scott Joplin, the American composer dubbed the King of Ragtime. Lack of proof, however, is no impediment to Mark Saltzman, whose entertaining...play with music, The Tin Pan Alley Rag, has just opened at the Roundabout's off-Broadway space.
...the play's animating concept itself is fanciful...
The black Joplin had formal musical training and wrote an opera, Treemonisha , that in the play he is trying to persuade Berlin to back. Berlin, the white immigrant from Russia, cannot read music, and tends to keep lofty ambitions to himself.
The drama's treatment of the racial aspect of music addresses a seminal topic in US cultural history: exactly how did African and European influences blend to create American popular music? The greatest chroniclers of jazz have been unable to answer that question, so I was happy when Saltzman allowed his notions to emerge from the specificities of Berlin and Joplin's stories rather than from speculative pronouncements. It is also satisfying to hear Berlin and Joplin compositions performed by offstage pianists, and glorious onstage singers giving us snatches of Treemonisha .
Under the fluid direction of Stafford Arima, the acting communicates the essence of the composers' parallel lives, especially their marriages, sundered heartbreakingly by the early deaths of their wives. ...As Joplin, Michael Boatman not only registers the depth of his character's aches, romantic and artistic, but also proves once again his brilliance at conveying acidic intelligence.
June 07, 2010 — Los Angeles "Ovation Award" Best Musical - Nomination Best Writing of a World Premier Play or Musical - Mark Saltzman - Nomination Best Direction - Alan Bailey - Nomination Best Choreography - Larry Sousa - Nomination Best Actor in a Musical - David Norona - Nomination
June 07, 2010 — "Carbonell Awards" Best Musical- WinnerBest Direction of a Musical - Jiri Zizka - WinnerBest Musical Direction - Brad Ellis - WinnerBest Actor in a Musical - Fred Berman as Irving Berlin - NominationBest Supporting Actress in a Musical - Idara Victor as Freddie Alexander - NominationBest Set Design - David P. Gordon - NominationBest Choreography - George Faison - NominationBest Sound Design - Carl Casella and T. Richard Fitzgerald - Nomination
Outer Critics Circle— Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical - 2009 Outer Critics Circle Award Nominee
Vocal Range of Characters:
Written By: Mark Saltzman
From past productions, THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG seems to work best when the set is simple. Having the office set take up the entirety of the stage is one way to go, but consider the alternative of having the office, the “home base,” just one defined area of the stage, keeping in mind that back then as now, New York City offices are pretty small spaces. The passage of time during the play is vitally important. Joplin enters in the late afternoon and it’s deep into the night when he leaves. On-stage office lights should be switched on an at an appropriate moment. And there might be a window or a backdrop of New York, so we can see the lights of the city becoming illuminated. Through set pieces and costumes, the bars in the show should clearly represent three different social levels. Club Habana is posh - royalty and Broadway stars might be among the guests. Some designers have created a beautiful effect with a starry night sky behind Irving and Dorothy as they tango outside. Jimmy Kelly’s is a Bowery dump for barflies, criminals and prostitutes like Sophie. The Maple Leaf Club is a private, members-only club for the middle-class African-American citizens of Sedalia, Missouri.
CHARACTER NOTES ON BERLIN AND JOPLIN: Although this play is a fictionalized meeting, there is reason to believe that Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin had many opportunities to meet when both were living in New York in the years before the First World War. Joplin would have been in his late forties and Berlin in his late twenties, making them two different generations, the older one coming of age in Victorian era, the younger, growing up in the looser, more progressing era of startling new inventions like the airplane and radical social movements, like women’s suffrage. Joplin comported himself as a proper classical composer. But it’s likely he would use that aloofness and superiority as a shield and a first defense against the offenses he would receive from the white world of the time. He is reserved and dignified, but there is also a self-mocking quality about him and a wry sense of humor.
Berlin, the Russian-Jewish immigrant, would have a thick accent in the Lower East Side scenes, but in the scenes set in the “present” it would have lessened, though there’d be no mistaking the New York Jewish speech patterns and mannerisms. Berlin should contrast Joplin with a wise-cracking, fast paced speech, and quick, nervous movements. The two lead characters are contrasts: Youth and middle-age, wealth and poverty, nervous energy and containment, health and illness.
INTERMISSION:At the Roundabout Theatre in New York, as well as at several other theaters, THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG was performed in two acts with an intermission. Whether the show is performed in one act or two is at the discretion of the theater. If there is to be an intermission, it will be right after the encore of “Play A Simple Melody,” right after Scott Joplin collapses, the end of Scene 18. (Bottom of page 63)
SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL:Changes were made for the 2009 New York production at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre and several previous productions. These changes are to be used in all future productions and are available in the supplemental material provided with the rehearsal set.
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- TIN PAN ALLEY RAG - Orchestra Package (4 Books/4 Players)
- 1 – PIANO VOCAL SCORE
- 1 – CLARINET (Optional Soprano Sax)
- 1 – BASS
- 1 – Percussion
- Rehearsal Set (22 Books)
- 20 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – Digital Logo
- 2 – PIANO VOCAL SCORE
- Digital Logo
- Libretto/Vocal Books 10 pack
- 10 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- TIN PAN ALLEY - PRE-PRODUCTION PACKAGE
- 1 – Libretto-Vocal Books
- 1 – PIANO VOCAL SCORE
Singing-Dancing ensemble doubling in many roles.
Ted Snyder/John Stark/Alfred Ernst
Mr. Williams/Ned/Freddie's Father/Ragtime Dancer
Miss Esther Lee/Monisha/Ragtime Dancer
Dorothy/Saloon Singer/Lula, Alfred Ernst's Secretary
Gitlo/Mr. Payton/Ragtime Dancer
Hopeful Songwriter/Driver/Cuban Singer
To be assigned as desired: Turkey Trot Plugger, Mr. Moon Singer, Lizzie Singer, Canoe Singers, Romeo Singer, Tate, Hiawatha Singer, Harvest Moon Singers, Honolulu Singer, Lillian Singer, Willie, Harry, Sofie, Jimmy Kelly, Money Mulligan, Johnny, Wedding Singer, Band Singer, Blues Shouter, Librarian.
THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG takes place in the New York office of Berlin and Snyder, music publishers, beginning on an April Tuesday in the second decade of Twentieth Century.
Watch scenes from THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG at the Roundabout TheatreRead More
THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG and DOUBLE TROUBLE are now available for performances by ALL customers.Read More
R&H chats with Mark Saltzman whose musical play, THE TIN PAN ALLEY RAG, recently made its New York debut.Read More