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RSVP / INTO THE NIGHT

A Party That Kept Things Swinging

June 17, 1997|BILL HIGGINS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Scene: Sunday's American premiere of Livent's "Ragtime" at the Shubert Theater. It was quite the theatrical extravaganza. The musical's intertwining of early-1900s immigrant, WASP and African American lives was described by one guest as "Sondheim meets John Dos Passos."

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Who Was There: The show's producer Garth Drabinsky, director Frank Galati, lyricist Lynn Ahrens, composer Stephen Flaherty and Terrence McNally, who did the stage adaptation; plus 2,000 guests (1,300 at the after party) including Matthew Broderick, Emma Thompson, Nathan Lane, Quincy Jones, Chita Rivera, Lou Pitt, Joel Silver, Barbara Howar, Jeff Burkhart, Gordon Davidson, Barry Krost and Gerald Schoenfeld.

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The Buzz: When the curtain fell, there was a five-minute, thunderous standing ovation. Two comments were, "Whatever its shortcomings, they were not from laziness or lack of imagination," and, "You sure as hell don't feel like your pocket's been picked at the end."

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The Party: Probably the biggest theater party since "Phantom of the Opera" opened in 1989. The Century Plaza's main ballroom was filled with dozens of ethnic buffets, props and an eight-piece blues band that had 200 guests dancing. By Hollywood standards this wasn't exorbitant (low-budget turkeys in the "Leprechaun 3: The Green Death Continues" league have bigger fiestas) but for theater this was huge.

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Oh, Canada: Lead actor Brian Stokes Mitchell on the difference between playing Toronto and Los Angeles--"The Canadian response is nice and polite. Americans are loud and brash and obnoxious and rude, and that makes for a great audience. I remember at the first preview here, right after the first number, I said offstage, 'America's in the house.' You could feel an energy over the footlights."

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Quoted: E.L. Doctorow said of his novel's stage adaptation, "Once you apply music and verse to a piece, you're leading into its metaphorical substance rather than its literal circumstance. Movies have a sense of the real, which isn't always suitable. What these people have done is they've teased out the sort of American allegory that's in the book and I'm very pleased."

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Slip Most Freudian: Drabinsky on why he brought "Ragtime" to L.A. from Toronto rather than to that other really big U.S. city--"It's a brilliant cast and they're well rehearsed and they're up for it, and the show, I think, belongs in New York now. I mean in Los Angeles."

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