The Tin Pan Alley Rag

Full-Length Musical, Comedy  /  4w, 5m

By Mark Saltzman
Music and Lyrics by Scott Joplin and Irving Berlin

A celebration of the music of Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin, this intriguing musical play imagines what may have transpired when the aging Joplin happened into young Berlin’s office in search of a publisher for his opera, Treemonisha.

  • Cast Size
    Cast Size
    4w, 5m
  • Duration
    120 minutes (2 hours)
  • SubGenre
    Period, Docudrama/Historic
  • Audience
    Target Audience
    Appropriate for all audiences
  • Nominee: 2010 Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding New Off-Broadway Musical



Although there is no historic record of Irving Berlin and Scott Joplin ever having met, it's not unlikely that the legendary songwriters’ paths might have crossed in that district of New York City known in the early part of the 20th century as Tin Pan Alley. That's the premise of this intriguing musical play, set into motion when the aging Joplin happens into young Berlin’s office in search of a publisher for his opera, Treemonisha. The ensuing musical discourse highlights influential and emotional moments from each of their lives. This bracing, original piece contrasts the ironic similarities and differences between the men to the sustaining surge of musical abundance. While Joplin received a conservatory education as the prodigy of a father born into slavery, it was Berlin, the Russian immigrant who couldn’t read music, who had his first international hit song at the age of 23. What becomes clear is that both Berlin and Joplin possessed musical gifts beyond measure and shared a passionate humanity, both of which are beautifully showcased and illuminated in The Tin Pan Alley Rag.

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.

The Tin Pan Alley Rag premiered off-Broadway at the Laura Pels Theatre on 14 July 2009. Directed by Stafford Arima, the production featured Michael Boatman as Scott Joplin and Michael Therriault as Irving Berlin.
2 Men
3 Women

3 Men
1 Woman

Singing-Dancing ensemble doubling in many roles.

Scott Joplin
Irving Berlin
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.

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.

  • Time Period 1920s
  • Setting

    The NYC office of Berlin and Snyder, music publishers. April 1910s.

  • Features Period Costumes
  • Duration 120 minutes (2 hours)


“Aside from being a profound history lesson, The Tin Pan Alley Rag is a singing, stomping, good time.” – Philadelphia Tribune

“Mark Saltzman has devised a highly entertaining and original show about two of America’s most celebrated composers, one an immigrant Jew with a passion for writing hits and the other a Black man with a passion for writing art.” – Hollywood Reporter

“Stirring musical excerpts the episodes are entertaining and there are charming moments, particularly in Joplin's recollections. There is a delicate touch to Irving Berlin’s transition from youth to old age as later period Berlin evergreens such as ‘Blue Skies’ ‘Cheek to Cheek’ and ‘What'll I Do’ are hatched in his mind.” – Variety

“Glorious music, vibrant and lively.” – Los Angeles Times

“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. 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.” – John Simon, Bloomberg.com

“That rare commodity, a highly entertaining evening with plenty to say. How exhilarating to leave a theatre with a few songs on your lips and a few thoughts on your brain.” – Palm Beach Post

“The profound emotional exchanges between the two musicians are juxtaposed against the happy sounds of ragtime. Aside from being a profound history lesson, The Tin Pan Alley Rag is a singing, stomping, good time.” – Philadelphia Tribune

The Tin Pan Alley Rag has it: that magical force of theatre that seemingly blankets an entire show in a winning, can’t-go-wrong sheen, and infuses it with a near-exhaustible level of energy and entertainment... marvelous and engaging, the stuff of theatrical miracles!” – Pasadena Weekly Magazine

“Filled with great fun and great music.” – KNX Radio

“In the vein of Death of a Salesman, Angels in America and Ragtime, The Tin Pan Alley Rag examines art, death, racism and the pursuit of the American Dream.” – Philadelphia Weekly

“Tunefully original... there are flashes of brilliance!” – NY1 Radio

“This watershed work holds the key to Saltzman’s imaginative hypothesis. The Tin Pan Alley Rag parses the intersecting biographies, eerie parallels and ironic contrasts with beautifully rendered musical selections that eschew a revue-style greatest hits program.” – Los Angeles Times


  • The Tin Pan Alley Rag – Beyond Broadway Feature youtube thumbnail

    The Tin Pan Alley Rag – Beyond Broadway Feature

  • Director Stafford Arima and Writer Mark Saltzman on The Tin Pan Alley Rag – Roundabout youtube thumbnail

    Director Stafford Arima and Writer Mark Saltzman on The Tin Pan Alley Rag – Roundabout


1. “Pluggers On Parade” – Song Pluggers
2. “I Love A Piano” – Berlin and Snyder
3. “A Real Slow Drag” – Joplin, Treemonisha, Monisha and the Ensemble
4. “Oh, Promise Me” – Saloon Singer
5. “Maple Leaf Rag” – Joplin and the Ensemble
6. “Sweet Italian Love” – Berlin
7. “Moishe Singa An Irish Song” – Berlin
8. “Yiddishe Nightingale” – Berlin
9. “When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam”‘ – Berlin and Snyder
10. “Ragtime Dance” – Joplin and the Ensemble
11. “You’d Be Surprised” – Berlin and Dorothy
12. “Everybody’s Doin’ It Now” – The Ensemble
13. “Solace” – Berlin and Dorothy
14. “When I Lost You” – Berlin
15. “Play A Simple Melody” – Berlin and Joplin
16. “The Entertainer” – Joplin
17. “I Want To See My Child Tonight” – Monisha and Ned
18. “American Rhapsody” – Berlin
19. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” – The Ensemble
20. “Finale: A Real Slow Drag” – The Company

Full Orchestration

Clarinet (Optional Soprano Sax)

2 Tom-Toms
Temple Blocks
Samba Whistle

  • Musical Style Classic Broadway, Jazz
  • Dance Requirements Minimal
  • Vocal DemandsModerate
  • Orchestra Size Small/Combo
  • Chorus Size No Chorus

Licensing & Materials

  • Licensing fees and rental materials quoted upon application.

Music Rentals

Concord offers a full suite of resources to help you put on the show of a lifetime!
15 Libretto-Vocal
1 Piano-Vocal
1 Clarinet
1 Percussion
1 Bass
1 Logo Pack

15 Libretto-Vocal
1 Piano-Vocal
1 Logo Pack


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Mark Saltzman

Mark Saltzman began his career in New York with Jim Henson writing for the Muppets. His Sesame Street sketches and songs (including Caribbean Amphibian) earned him seven Emmy Awards, but behind Kermit's back, Mark was writing cabaret shows and musicals that played at Soho Rep ...

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Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin (1868-1917), American composer and pianist, is one of the most important developers of ragtime music. Born in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin taught himself piano as a child, learning classical music from a German neighbor. In his teens he became an itinerant pianist in ...

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Irving Berlin

With a life that spanned more than 100 years and a catalogue that boasts over 1,000 songs, Irving Berlin (1888-1989) epitomized Jerome Kern’s famous maxim that “Irving Berlin has no place in American music – he is American music.” Berlin wrote scores to 13 Broadway musicals, ...

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