Ragtime 

This 1998 musical deftly interweaves the fully felt characters in novelist E.L. Doctorow's tale of America's boiling pot in the early 20th century. Three clans of immigrants--an ethnically and racially mixed assemblage that looks a lot like America today--and historical figures like Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, and Harry Houdini show how change can radicalize or humanize. Terrence McNally's fluid dialogue, Lynn Ahrens's compassionate lyrics, and Stephen Flaherty's gorgeous variations on ragtime waltzes and cakewalks are grist for L. Walter Stearns's powerful Porchlight Music Theatre mill. This revival moves in every way, partly because it dispenses with the elaborate scene changes of Frank Galati's original Broadway production. The performances persuade, the dancing is period perfect, and the casting is unimprovable. --Lawrence Bommer a Through 5/27: Fri-Sat 7:45 PM, Sun 2:30 PM, Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252, $27-$35.

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