Now playing at the Neil Simon Theatre on Broadway.

The ambition of Ragtime is astonishing. It’s one thing to create a musical from a simple, straightforward movie, an animated comedy or some such, but to use E. L. Doctorow’s sprawling, provocative epic novel as source material is something else entirely. So much do I admire the creators of Ragtime for setting their sights so high that I’m usually willing to forgive the moments when they fall short—and they do. Ragtime has considerable flaws: often bombastic orchestration, awkward pacing in the second act, an overly rosy ending. But these are worth setting aside in appreciation of the musical’s strengths: incisive writing; gorgeous, meaningful songs; heartbreaking drama deftly leavened with humor and irony. It’s not perfect, but it’s eloquent and memorable—something special.