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RAGTIME Comes to Open Stage Of Harrisburg

RAGTIME Comes to Open Stage Of Harrisburg

In 1998, the musical Ragtime hit Broadway. E. L. Doctorow's 1975 novel was brought to life by the musical writing team of Stephen Lafferty and Lynn Ahrens, who had gained some notoriety with their musicals Lucky Stiff and Once on This Island, with an adapted book by Terrence McNally, who had won a Tony award for his work on Love! Valour! Compassion! This powerhouse team helped Ragtime earn 4 Tony Awards.

A melting pot of stories (both historic and fictional) involve characters struggling to understand the changing landscape of America in the early twentieth century. Ragtime mostly concentrates on three storylines - the first pertaining to Coalhouse Walker Jr. (played by New York actor James Oronoz), a talented black pianist spearheading the cultural rise of Harlem. His courtship of a woman named Sarah becomes the catalyst for change for a wealthy white family in New Rochelle, New York. The third family is represented by a man named Tateh and his daughter, fleeing from Eastern Europe and joining the influx of immigrants into New York City (where he finds that the American Dream he was promised may not be as attainable as he believed).

Ragtime was originally presented with a cast of over forty actors, an orchestra made up of dozens of instruments, a traditional set mostly consisting of flying backdrops and set pieces, and a replica of a working Model-T Ford. Open Stage, a black box theatre with 120 seats and an intimate playing space, provided a great opportunity for director Rachel Landon to minimize the production. The story of Ragtime, which usually features over 100 characters, will feature a cast of 13 artists.

"We wanted to boil down the show to what is truly needed," says Landon. "I believe we can do that without losing any of the sweeping, epic nature of the musical. This will be pretty far from a traditional interpretation of the show, or for any musical for that matter. I am concentrating on an interpretive version of the story so the audience can concentrate on the character and scenework form this talented cast. We are utilizing a costume design that will largely have a clean, modern, anachronistic flair and a set that will feature towers of luggage, ephemera, and photographs that will have a feel of walking through a museum exhibit. It will be a design that symbolizes no place and every place." The orchestra, led by musical director Nicholas Werner, will be whittled down to an ensemble of four musicians, which will represent the varied score of the show that calls back to bluegrass, jazz, and of course, ragtime.

Landon believes the show is more pertinent now than ever before. "The events that occur on the stage are seen on our TV screens every night - violence towards people of color, xenophobia, social inequity, political upheaval. Through it all we feel a sort of helplessness. What do we do? How do we change? How do we adapt? The audience gets to see the characters on stage go through the same struggle we face every day: what does it mean to be an American?"

The musical Ragtime will close Season 33, a season dedicated to telling coming-of-age stories. Season 33 includes the sold out and lauded runs of Carrie the Musical, for colored girls who have considered suicide/ when the rainbow is enuf, The Wolves, and The Kids You Read About in Textbooks. Ragtime will be the final show in the space as it has largely stood for over 25 years at 25 North Court Street. The day after Ragtime closes, Open Stage will begin major renovations that are made possible by the 30/30 Capital Campaign. The theatre will feature a new lobby, a second 40-seat stage, new seats, a renovated classroom, a library, and an updated dressing room. Like the characters of Ragtime, Open Stage will be leaving a part of the past behind and looking to the future.

More information can be found at or by calling the box office at 717-232-6736. Ragtime runs May 25-June 16 at Open Stage of Harrisburg, 25 North Court Street.

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