BWW Feature: An Interview With Two Stars of RAGTIME, a Charleston Light Opera Guild Production Heading To THE CLAY CENTER In November!
Ragtime, the modern Broadway classic which debuted in 1998, will be making its way to the Maier Performance Hall at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in early November courtesy of the Charleston Light Opera Guild (CLOG). CLOG is no stranger to Ragtime, as they previously performed this production in 2007. With a previous production under their belt and many actors reprising their roles, CLOG's rendition of Ragtime is sure to thrill audiences while showing them why this show is widely heralded as a new classic.
I spoke with Kevin Hardy and Brett Short, both actors reprising their roles from the 2007 production, about what has changed, how it feels to return and what audiences can expect from this production.
Kevin Hardy, who portrays Coalhouse Walker, JR. an African American and Professional Musician, summed up his character's importance in the show. "Coalhouse encounters racism from volunteer firemen near New Rochelle, NY. The firemen block his route. When he leaves his car to find a policeman the volunteer firemen trash his car. Coalhouse tries to follow the proper channels to receive justice," explained Hardy. "He does not, so he retaliates."
"As an African male, I identify with the character," said Hardy. "I understand his motives. Different people react to racism in many different ways and his character chose the violent road."
Hardy is no stranger to the character, having portrayed him eleven years ago. "It feels great to reprise the role," said Hardy. "I am excited to do it again." Familiarity with the role is not the only reason Hardy decided to return. "The music. The music is so well written," explained Hardy. "And the meaning behind the show. (The show) brings to light the injustices we are still facing in America."
Despite the years passing, audiences can expect the character to stay the same. "My approach has been the same," said Hardy, but he also said that audiences can expect a "bigger cast, larger stage and set," than the previous performance had.
Brett Short plays Tateh, "a Latvian Jewish immigrant who comes to American to find a better life for his daughter." Short explained his character's role in the play, "this character represents the struggle of European immigrants hoping for a better life in America. We see him first as hopeful, then he grows disillusioned as the show progresses as he has to face the horrors of abject poverty."
Like Hardy, Short also understands his character's choices. "I find his motives to be pure and coming from the love of his daughter. The character represents the hope and drive that you can succeed with hard work and ingenuity."
Short jumped at the chance to reprise his role. "It feels wonderful," said Short, "There are many cast members that were in the show eleven years ago. It feels like a reunion of sorts." Short made sure to acknowledge the entire cast by adding, "The new cast members are also bringing a wonderful freshness to the show."
"I love playing Tateh. It is a role I identified with when I saw the original cast on Broadway," explained Short. "It wasn't really a choice if I would audition. I had to do this role again before my age would keep me from playing him." As for whether his approach to the character has changed over the years, Short replied, "I think my process for character development remains the same for each role I am given the honor of portraying. I conduct the research for the period and incorporate that into the character's though processes." Short admits he is changing the way he performs the role slightly, "I do have some things to correct from last time. I appreciate the opportunity to play him again."
As for changes the audience can expect, Short said, "The set is different, and it will be performed at The Clay Center which is a much larger venue in terms of seating capacity. I also think the new cast will offer a different final product for the audience."
Short and Hardy both took time to explain why they believe that Ragtime had become a modern classic. "This musical is the epitome of the American Musical," said Short. "It is telling America's story with the assimilation of immigrants and African Americans into our society and culture. It is a true melting pot show that displays what makes our country great and the hope of what this country could be." Short appreciates the shows message and hopes audiences will as well. "I adore the show, I think it gives the message of having tolerance for other people of different cultures and backgrounds. It shows the best and worst of situations in a changing social environment."
Hardy believes that the show's frank depiction of racism and injustice keep it topical. "We are still experiencing some of the same injustices from the ragtime era, even today. Police brutality of African Americans is high and the laws for immigration are still prevalent." Hardy hopes that the show will motivate audiences toward action. "Hopefully, the audience and cast members will see the injustices in our nation and not stand idle but take a stand and fight against these injustices."
On a lighter note, both actors took time to share their favorite scene from the musical.
"My favorite number remains Our Children where I get to perform with an incredibly talented young lady playing Mother," said Short. "Kristen Pennington is a joy to have as a scene partner."
"Wheels of a Dream is my favorite song," explained Hardy. "It expresses the hopefulness and harmony in America. Crime of the Century and What a Game are my favorite scenes in the show."
In closing, both Hardy and Short had a few words to share with potential audiences.
"Please bring as many people to this show as you can," urged Short. "It promotes cultural diversity, love and humanity, and hopefully changes peoples' minds who may be hesitant to embrace the differences of all people. The music is wonderful, the costumes are beautifully authentic, and this cast is incredibly talented."
"It really is a great show with beautiful music," praised Hardy. "The actors are among the finest in the valley. It will be something that you don't want to miss."
Ragtime will be performed at The Clay Center on November 2nd, 3rd, 9th and 10th, 2018 at 7:30 PM and November 4th and 11th, 2018 at 2:00 PM. Tickets can be purchased online through The Clay Center and run between $28.50 and $33.50. For more information you can visit CLOG's Ragtime Page or their Facebook Event Page.