BWW Interview: Theater Latte Da RAGTIME's David L. Murray, Jr.
Turn of the century... who'd have thunk it that we'd have some of the same issues happening shortly after beginning the 21st century that were raging as the country began the 20th century? While some things have advanced and changed for the positive, such as the role of women, we still are grappling today with issues of race and immigration. Having seen RAGTIME when the national tour came to Minneapolis and a more recent prior local production, it never struck me until I attended Theater Latte Da's new production just how much.
That relevance, paired with Director Peter Rothstein's strong cast on the intimate Ritz stage brought a laser focus to just how much some things stay the same. One of those cast members is a fairly recent transplant to the local scene who is already making a big name for himself. David L. Murray, Jr., plays Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a young black musician who courts Sarah, the African-American woman whose abandoned infant ties them to a wealthy white family in New Rochelle, NJ. Coalhouse and Sarah's relationship is a central focus of the musical and brings some of the show's most soaring numbers and biggest conflicts. Murray took time to answer 6 Questions and a Plug's call just after opening this production this week.
Could you start by telling our readers about RAGTIME from Coalhouse Walker Jr.'s perspective? What is the show about and who is this character?
RAGTIME begins at the turn of the 20th century and tells the story of three groups of people in the United States: an upper class white family represented by "Mother," the immigrant community represented by "Tateh," and the African American's story told through my character--Coalhouse Walker, Jr. Coalhouse (like the others) is a trained musician in pursuit of the American dream at a time in America where that dream seemed only possible for some. His idea of the dream is based on self-reliance and becoming economically independent from the white system in order to overcome the racism of the time. He takes pride in the life that he has built for himself and his family, and right when his dream is being realized it is shattered.
How relevant is this show today with the current political and cultural climate, and what does it teach us about where we've come from (and have yet to go)?
Well it's unfortunate that the show is so relevant today. The fact is that we still live in a world where racism exists, where hate is exacerbated by so-called political leaders, where acceptance of others is put on the back burner, and where African Americans are being gunned down by the very people charged to protect them. America is once again going through some growing pains much like the ones experienced at the turn of the 20th century. This teaches us that racism of all sorts has been in embedded in the fabric of America for many years, and even though we have come so far there is still a ways to go. With that said, America is still the best country in the world, and I am quite optimistic that we will continue to move in a direction of understanding and of inclusiveness... it may be bumpy along the way but it will get better. In so many ways Ragtime teaches us to raise our voice and demand justice...well that's Black Lives Matter today!
What is your favorite number that you perform and one that you're not a part of, and why?
Honestly with this show its quite difficult to pick my favorite, but I would say I absolutely love singing "Wheels of a Dream" with Traci Allen Shannon (Sarah). Not only is the music incredible, it also symbolizes the hopes and dreams of these two characters, which we all can relate to and imagine for ourselves. I also love watching Britta Ollmann sing "Back to Before." She is not only stunning to watch on stage she has an incredible voice and her storytelling through song leaves you in awe of her talent.
RAGTIME is known to be a fairly large show and you're performing it in Theater Latté Da's "new" home, the Ritz Theater - is the production sized down to fit in this smaller space or have they come up with any ingenious tricks to make this show work well in that space?
Most people wouldn't expect a production like RAGTIME to be done in a space like The Ritz. However, this is the genius of Peter Rothstein and his vision to focus less on the size/glam/pageantry of the production and put more emphasis on the story of all these incredible characters. I think people who come to this show will be pleasantly surprised how the true beauty of this show is actually embedded in the storytelling.
You're from New York and went to school in Wisconsin - how did you end up here in Minneapolis? Tell us a little more about your background.
I'm actually originally from Jackson, Miss., and moved to Wisconsin during my sophomore in high school. I attended high school in Kenosha, Wisc., and was introduced to the wonderful world of theatre during junior year in a production of LES MISERABLES. After high school I decided to study Musical Theatre at UW-Stevens Point and moved to New York City thereafter. While in New York City, along with auditioning for shows there and regionally, I'm was always looking for opportunities to work closer to home. I found a posting for the musical VIOLET at Yellow Tree Theater in Osseo, Minn., and decided to submit a video. So my first production in the Minneapolis area was this past February at Yellow Tree.
What has your experience with Theater Latté Da been like so far?
Simply amazing! I tell people all the time how welcoming and friendly everyone is here at Theater Latté Da! It is the perfect environment for creating amazing, thought-provoking work!
I know your next project is CINDERELLA at Children's Theatre Company (CTC) -- tell us more about that role/production, and any other future plans you have -- what else can readers watch for you in?
My next project will also be here in the Minneapolis area playing the role of the Prince in CTC's production ofCinderella. I am excited that I will be working on the production with Traci (Sarah in RAGTIME) as Cinderella.
To view Part Two, visit https://youtu.be/Bt9UW74GR4k.
David L. Murray, Jr. (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.) bio:
Murray, from New York, is thrilled to join the wonderful cast of Ragtime; working with an exceptional creative team and an outstanding group of actors. David has a BFA Musical Theatre Degree from The University of WI-Stevens Point Theatre and Dance program. His most recent NYC credits include: The Off-Broadway productions of Vote for me, Legend of the Word, and This Clement World. Regional: Violet, Dracula, White Christmas, Seussical The Musical, and Smokey Joe's Cafe. David would like to thank God, Family, the Noels, and friends for their unwavering love and support! Psalms 23:6
Book by Terrence McNally • Music by Stephen Flaherty • Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens • Based on the novel "Ragtime" by E. L. Doctorow • Directed by Peter Rothstein • Music Direction by Denise Prosek • Choreography by Kelli Foster Warder
Showing now through Oct. 23 at the new home of Theatre Latte Da, the Ritz in Northeast Minneapolis. Tickets available at theaterlatteda.org.
David L. Murray, Jr., courtesy of Theater Latte Da.