In October of 1994, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens delivered a cassette containing four audition songs for the musicalization of the novel Ragtime to Garth Drabinsky, CEO of Livent Inc., and producer for the planned musical.
The first song on the tape-- which was well-produced and featured the voices of many recognizable Broadway actors-- was an opening number and title song. Two things you need to know about Ahrens and Flaherty right off the bat: 1) as songwriters they are astute dramatists and 2) they write showstopping opening numbers. As in "we Dance" for their musical On This Island and "Twenty Million People" for their adaptation of My Favorite Year, this this table setter put the whole evening on course. Within a catchy rag-inspired melody, the team had successfully seized upon a dramatic device invented by bookwriter Terrence McNally in a treatment that would serve as a blueprint for the show; McNally boldly brought the principal characters forward to narrate their own lives in the third person, and this became the basis for the song. By its end, you had been introduced to each character who would enter as the evening progressed.
Next on the tape was a gospel number entitled "Till We Reach That Day." And another slow rag called "You Don't Know" for Evelyn Nesbit. She became America's first sex symbol when when her husband, Harry K. Thaw, shot and killed her lover, the famous architect, Stanford White.
The last song was a lilting and aching waltz for the Latvian immigrant, Tateh, to sing to his daughter at a troubled time. It was called "Gliding" and introduced one of Doctotrow's most important images-- a flip-book of a little girl skating, an invention of Tateh's that would serendipitously alter his and his daughter's destiny.
The audition tape showed that Flaherty, who had shown a gift for melody in his earlier shows, was well-schooled in American musical styles (rag, cakewalk, waltz, march) of the turn of the century era of which Ragtime was set. He somehow managed to make his songs sound both part of the period and still contemparary.