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Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME

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Shelby Smith, Wood Van Meter, Kortney Ballenger and Steven McCoy Tell You About Themselves and Why You Need to See Their Show

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME
Wood Van Meter (as Harry Houdini) and the company of Ragtime

Nashville Repertory Theatre returns to the stage after far too long - 20 months to be precise - with a large-scale and altogether grand production of the Tony Award-winning Ragtime, which plays TPAC's James K. Polk Theatre through Sunday, November 14.

Read our review: /nashville/article/BWW-Review-Star-Studded-RAGTIME-Heralds-Nashville-Repertory-Theatres-Return-to-Live-Performance-20211111

Read our interview with four of Ragtime's stars: /nashville/article/Nashville-Rep-Comes-Home-to-TPACs-Polk-Theatre-for-Season-Opening-RAGTIME-20211109

The production opened last night (Thursday, November) featuring a cast of Nashville stage veterans and a sizable coterie of performers, heretofore unknown to local audiences, who are certain to become fast favorites. Taking a brief respite from their hectic schedules of rehearsals, fittings, photo calls, more rehearsals and getting to know one another, four of those newcomers - Shelby Denise Smith, Wood Van Meter, Kortney Ballenger and Steven McCoy - took the time to answer our questions that comprise our Friday 5(+1) to offer readers some insight into just who they are and to tell you why you need to score those tickets for Ragtime now if you haven't already.

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME Shelby Denise Smith (Sarah)

What was your first onstage introduction to theater? My first onstage introduction to live theatre was The Lion King! I had gone to New York City for the first when I was 12 and that happened to be my first Broadway show.

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? My favorite pre-show ritual is prayer and meditation. I find it important for keeping myself grounded, especially if I'm a bit nervous before a performance.

What's your favorite "the show must go on" experience? I surprisingly haven't had any major mishaps yet! I wish I had a more thrilling story to tell, but it's true. Fingers crossed that it will stay that way.

What's your dream role? A dream role of mine actually happens to be Sarah! If we're talking aside from Ragtime, I'd have to say Clara in The Light in the Piazza.

Who's your theatrical crush? My theatrical crush is definitely Audra McDonald. I absolutely adore her.

Why should people come see Ragtime? I think the importance of Ragtime lies in the relevancy of the themes presented in the show, such as injustice, the true meaning of the American dream, and the uncomfortable nature and need for change. Hopefully, audiences members will see themselves represented in the characters onstage and will strive to make the unification and just demands that were unable to be achieved in the storyline somewhat of a reality for present day.

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME Wood Van Meter (Harry Houdini)

What was your first onstage introduction to theater? I got to see Donny Osmond on tour in Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and was completely spellbound. I just remember everyone onstage radiating joy.

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? Aside from the normal stretching/warming up, it's really important to center yourself. I try to meditate for just a couple minutes just to quiet my thoughts a bit and focus on the character and show.

What's your favorite "the show must go on" experience? I once did a show that involved a fast costume change that went into a choreographed sword fight. One night I just barely made the costume change and once I was onstage, I realized I didn't have my sword! The audience must have been very confused as my scene partner and I did this bizarre fight scene where he had a sword and I somehow beat him without one.

What's your dream role? Floyd Collins. It's such an incredible story about this man being confronted with his own mortality and legacy. It's also (in my opinion) one of the best scores ever written.

Who's your theatrical crush? I've definitely developed a crush on my Ragtime castmate Galen Crawley, who plays Evelyn Nesbit. She's insanely talented, gorgeous, and just one of the nicest people ever. I'm sure everyone who sees Ragtime will also develop a crush on her.

Why should people come see Ragtime? Ragtime is definitely one of the best musicals written in the last 30 years. It's score and story are so beautiful and layered, but I think after the events of the last 2 years it's dealing with issues of systemic racism, police brutality, and treatment of immigrants feel more visceral than when it first premiered. I think audiences will leave both being blown away by this beautiful production, but also thinking about how they will fit in to a world and a country that is changing whether they like it or not.

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME Kortney L. Ballenger (Sarah's Friend)

What was your first onstage introduction to theater? Well, my mother has always encouraged my brother and me to be well-rounded in many different genres of life and interests. I remember my first time seeing an onstage production was when I was quite a bit younger, seeing Dreamgirls at TPAC. However, my first onstage performing production was Seussical The Musical Jr. as Cindy LouWho/ensemble in the fifh grade.

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? To preface this, my father is the person who helped me learn to love music and performance in ALL sorts. He passed away last year, and now, my favorite thing that I do in my preparation is to say a few funny things my dad would say to me to myself or to my castmates/crewmates. It makes me smile and helps me find an answer to why I love theatre.

What's your favorite "the show must go on" experience? When I did You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown as Lucy when I was a kid, I did an entrance WAY TOO EARLY during a song, and instead of just walking offstage in character, I did a time step in my spot and smiled as hard as I could until my entrance was supposed to happen.

What's your dream role? I've actually been able to portray most of my dream roles, fortunately. However, my end-all-be-all, right now, would have to be Agwe from Once On This Island.

Who's your theatrical crush? It's between Steven McCoy (Younger Brother in Ragtime), Norm Lewis, Daveed Diggs, Okieriete Onaodowan or Amber Riley. I'm obsessed with all of them, and I can't choose one.

Why should people come see Ragtime?Because it gives us a reality check of the circle and cycle never being broken in a sense of change, it helps a lot of people understand where in our lives we can engage in moving towards a brighter, better, and progressive future. . .also because my friends are super talented, and I need the world to know how special and extraordinary they are!!!

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME Steven McCoy (Younger Brother)

What was your first onstage introduction to theater? My first introduction to theatre was a small production of Peter Pan back home! I remember being enthralled by the magic of making someone look like they're flying with the support of the other onstage actors.

What's your favorite pre-show ritual? I love to do some grounding meditation, along with PLENTY of coffee.

What's your favorite "the show must go on" experience? I was in the middle of a huge dance number when my pants, through divine intervention, unbuttoned, unzipped, and fell around my ankles. I'm still not sure how it happened. I simply grapevined right offstage.

What's your dream role? George from Sunday in the Park with George!

Who's your theatrical crush? Either Julian Ovenden or Angela Lansbury (specifically in her Sweeney Todd era).

Why should people come see Ragtime?It's a piece that has unfortunately only become more timely and necessary. It's a call to action to stop the cyclical nature of American history.

Friday 5(+1): Getting To Know The New Faces of Nashville Rep's RAGTIME About Nashville Repertory Theatre's Ragtime

"Ragtime is a big American musical which both celebrates the good in our country and challenges us to do better when we don't live up to our ideals," said Drew Ogle, executive director of Nashville Rep. "After a year of shut down due to the pandemic, a period which exposed many of the divides in our country, it feels both appropriate to celebrate and to ask how we can do better. The themes in Ragtime could have been pulled from today's headlines: systemic racism, our treatment of immigrants, gender equality, and police brutality. We have to keep talking about these things until we get them right."

Based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow, Ragtime uses song to weave together stories of early twentieth-century New York from three different perspectives: a Harlem musician, upper-class suburbanites, and a determined Jewish immigrant. Historical figures including Booker T. Washington, Harry Houdini, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford and Evelyn Nesbit make cameo appearances. Terrence McNally won a Tony Award for "Best Book of a Musical." Ragtime composer Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens won Tonys for "Best Original Score." Nashville Rep's production features 35 actors and 15 musicians, and is directed by Micah-Shane Brewer, making his Rep directorial debut.

"We are so excited to be back on the stage," said Brewer. "We wanted to return with a bang. It's our largest cast in over 15 years, and our return to TPAC's Polk theatre after a 13-year absence. It's one of our most diverse casts and creative teams ever, with 22 actors making their Rep debut. Ragtime is one of the largest shows the Nashville Rep has ever produced and was the perfect choice as our season opener."

The cast is led by Megan Murphy Chambers as Mother, Garris Wimmer as Tateh, Galen Fott as Father, and making their Rep debuts Justin Marriel Boyd as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. and Shelby Denise Smith as Sarah. Joining them is Steven McCoy as Younger Brother, Marin Rorex as Little Boy, Millie Sims as Little Girl, Nancy Allen as Emma Goldman, Galen Crawley as Evelyn Nesbit, Wood Van Meter as Harry Houdini, Bakari King as Booker T. Washington, Curt Denham as Grandfather, Geoffrey Davin as J.P. Morgan, Matthew Carlton as Henry Ford, Kortney Ballenger as Sarah's Friend, Dustin Davis as Willie Conklin, and Kambri King as Young Coalhouse. Featuring Matthew Benenson Cruz, Aaron T. Castle, Nate Gilanyi, Ray Gleaves, Carli Hardon, LaDarra Jackal, Hatty Ryan King, Angela Madaline-Johnson, Gerold Oliver, Mariah Parris, Alex Pineiro, Brityn Ramsey, Maya Antoinette Riley, Haille Wallace, Sheldon Thomas, Shawn Whitsell, and Sarah Katherine Zanotti in the ensemble.

Music director and conductor Dave Ragland and choreographer Tosha Pendergrast join Brewer in their Rep debuts. The design team includes sets by Gary C. Hoff, costumes by Lori Gann-Smith, lighting by Darren Levin, sound by Nivedhan Singh, props by Abigail Nichol and projections by Cody Stockstill. New to the team are fight choreographer Diego Gomez, dramaturg Phyllis D. Adams, and mental health provider Crystal Owens of Red Cedar Therapy.


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