What with all the controversial issues highlighted in a very toxic presidential campaign and, therefore, dominating the airwaves, internet and print publications, the subject matter of “Ragtime, The Musical” couldn’t be more timely. Directed by Bob Zehr, the production will be presented Friday Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 22 at St. Luke United Methodist Church.
Terrence McNally wrote the book, the lyrics are by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty wrote the music for “Ragtime.” The musical is based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow. The story, set early in the 20th century, centers on three groups—African-Americans, upper-class whites and Eastern Eurupean Jewish immigrants. They are brought together by historical figures, including Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry Kendall Thaw, Admiral Peary, Matthew Henson, and Emma Goldman, all of whom are represented in the stories. The show’s music includes ragtime, marches, gospel and cakewalks.
“While this play is set at the turn of the century, all the topics discussed are incredibly relevant today. In the end, it is a powerful show about hope.” says Zehr. He has assembled a cast of 43 individuals who he says represent members of the church congregation and other performers recruited from the larger theater community.
Zehr, a former co-owner/operator of Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre for 25 years and a 35-year member of St. Luke’s, says that the church produces shows in order “to provide a safe place for people to be artists, to be actors, even if they are not trained. We want to give them a chance to experience what it means to be part of a theater company can build relationships, have friendships and bond.”
In the case of “Ragtime,” Zehr also hopes that the show, with its hot button topics of racism, immigration and deportation, will prompt dialogue among those seeing it and stimulate them to carry forward the show’s positive message of inclusion and acceptance. He hopes his diverse cast which has spent time, sharing their experiences with one another at the end of rehearsals, will also be impacted positively by it.
It has been a hugely ambitious fete for volunteer Zehr to produce a show like “Ragtime” with its large cast and technical elements but he has some stellar assistance. Stephen Hollenbeck designed the costumes and Doug King is the show’s choreographer. However, Zehr says that just coordinating cast member’s schedules for good attendance at rehearsals (they began in September) was a major challenge.
Zehr’s other big challenge now is to fill the massive church which seats 1,400. Zehr is confident, however, that it can be done if word gets out about the subject matter. “We are only three weeks from the election having this vitriolic discussion about deportation and racism, as exemplified by issues raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. So we feel that by presenting “Ragtime” we can explore a very current set of topics but do it through theater.” states Zehr.
Premiere tickets, which include reserved seating, are $50. General admission tickets are $20. To purchase tickets and for information about the Friday Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m. and Saturday, Oct. 22, 4:00 p.m. performances, visit the St. Luke’s website at StLukesUMC.com.