The Douglas Anderson Theatre Department presented its annual musical from November 21-24, 2013 on the Main Stage Theatre on the school’s Southside campus. “Ragtime, The Musical,” has often been described as one of the greatest American Musicals and was an excellent choice for the School of the Arts, providing both an education about American culture and social issues in the 1900s, and a marvelous opportunity for students to stage this spectacular show, either as actors or crew members.
The novel “Ragtime” was penned by E. L. Doctorow in 1975. It was made into a movie in 1981; the writer was not all that happy with the result. With the birth of the musical, he worked closely with playwright Terrence McNally who adapted it for the stage. It is interesting that although it was an American musical, with American actors, it was originally staged in Toronto, Canada in 1996 by Livent Inc, the only company willing to take a chance on it. It eventually made it to Broadway in 1998 and received eight Tony nominations, winning in four categories.
The musical has three overlapping stories that involve families during the early years of the twentieth century, beginning in 1900. Father(Brad Betros), Mother (Katie Sacks), and Younger Brother (Devin Reardon) live in a Victorian house in New Rochelle, New York. After Mother finds an abandoned baby in her garden, she befriends his mother (Essence Williams), an impoverished unmarried African-American who had left the child hoping the prosperous family in this fine home would help him; Mother takes in both mother and child. Ragtime musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Willie Beaton II) enters their lives as he tries to win back Sarah. The members of the third family are Jewish immigrants Tateh (Billy Speed) and his daughter (Leila Ninya) who struggle to make a living after arriving in New York. By chance, Tateh meets Mother when fleeing the city, and later becomes much more involved in her life.
Much of the musical’s story focuses on racial attacks against the talented and proud Coalhouse and the tragic outcome of his journey to find equality and justice. We suggest you check out the historically-based fictional novel from the library; you will find it rich in the depictions of Americans moving forward during a time filled with intolerance, inequity, and, for many, unsettling social changes.
Throughout, a lot of humor is interspersed with more harsh stories of racism and labor unrest, and we encountered some very famous people of that period, many still well known, with others who have faded into history. Names you are no doubt familiar with included Houdini (Jay Cobian), Emma Goldman (Sissy Hofaker), Booker T. Washington (Joel Oliver), Admiral Peary (Chase Fowler), J. P. Morgan (Riley Hillyer), and Henry Ford (Ronald Ferraco). Not as well remembered perhaps were Stanford White (Dylan Tossanvainen), Harry K Thaw (Josh Hancock), and the notorious Evelyn Nesbit (Sara DiGeorgio), a sexy chorus girl and actress, who was involved in a well-publicized and sensational murder trial.
Scenic Designer Nolan O’Dell used a two-story scaffold with a spiral metal staircase as a center piece. Behind the structure was a video screen on which various scenes were projected to correspond with the settings and action on the stage. Lighting Designer Nic Ciccarello created numerous dramatic pictures. Costume Designer Sally Pettegrew and her large costume crew had the large cast dressed in costumes that ranged from finery to rags, depending on the stations in life of the characters. It was very much an authentic depiction of the extremes of the era.
This show was a technical marvel thanks to the crew and Technical Director Terry Monday. The twenty or so scenes flowed smoothly. We were especially impressed with DA’s version of a Model-T Ford belonging to Coalhouse that was driven on and off the stage.
The music of Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Aherns was inspirational and moving and so well sung by the entire cast, who sang each note with passion and power. Most of the cast members were portraying characters older than themselves, sometimes three and four times older, and yet they were so convincing that we at times forgot this was a high school production. We can’t praise the voices enough. Katie Sacks as Mother sang several solos, and displayed such maturity and quality in her vocal ability, we indeed though she was a woman of thirty or forty.
Others in this outstanding cast included: Michael Rahbar, Elan Sandler, Seth Sims, Kiernan O’Conner, Jasmine Walters, Victoria Wakefield, Shannon Behrens, Kristen Shaw, Zoria Daley, Taylor Payne, Kaila Justice, Julian Robertson, Benjamin Simmons, Dominiq Luckie, Robert McRae, Kaleb Sims, Joshua Johnson, Jermaine Shavers, Hadley Parrish-Cotton, Emily Suarez, Brandon Leporati, Liam Wirsansky, Ana Puig, and Veronica Vale.
Douglas Anderson’s annual musical is a highlight of the theatre year in Jacksonville. It is such a total school endeavor, involving students, staff, parents, patrons, and the always enthusiastic audiences. Kudos to Director Dr. Lee Beger, Vocal Director Cathy Giddens, Choreographer DeWitt Cooper, and Orchestra Conductor Ace Martin for your commitment to excellence, which is always evident and certainly was splendidly demonstrated in this demanding production.