The “Ragtime” Melting Pot

. September 12, 2018.
Nickolas Brown and Bryana Hall play Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah in Ragtime.
Nickolas Brown and Bryana Hall play Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah in Ragtime.

If it’s possible for a stage show to be timeless and incredibly timely all at once, that show might be Ragtime. Originally staged on Broadway in 1998, the musical weaves together multiple narratives to tell interlocking stories of the American experience in the early 20th century. Though the music, costumes and story are period, the theme of the show is all about how America is born from a wide variety of experiences, forming a glorious melody where all voices can— or at least should— be heard.

In time for the show’s 20th anniversary, a new production of Ragtime will be performed at the Croswell Opera House in Adrian, MI, beginning September 21. “I think the storyline is universal, about people, about nationalities living together,” director Deb Calabrese said.

“It’s the story of three groups of people at the turn of the century in America, living around New York City. You have the upper class, suburban white family and neighbors, who live in New Rochelle. And then you have a community of Jewish immigrants who come from Europe, and then the African American citizens who live in Harlem.” It’s like a crazy quilt— there are so many pieces of material, and when they all come together, they make this beautiful story.”

Bucket list

Having the chance to create and stage her own version of Ragtime is Calabrese’s long held dream fulfilled. She first saw the show two decades ago, a performance of the original Broadway cast. “I have been working at the Croswell for a few years now, and I directed Memphis and In the Heights last year. And so, in the process of doing these shows, Ragtime was [on] my bucket list. And Jere Righter, the artistic director, loved the story also. So it was a good fit.”

Calabrese said she is trying to maintain a period-appropriate look with the costumes and staging, though hard realism isn’t really the priority in a show filled with so many memorable musical numbers. Pulling those off requires a dedicated and talented group of performers— qualities that Calabrese said her cast has in spades.
“It’s interesting, Ragtime has such a great reputation, that when [the Croswell] announced their season, I had people saying, ‘Oh, I gotta audition, because it’s Ragtime. And the cast is phenomenal,” Calabrese said.

Love is love

In an era which sees a puzzling hostility toward the principles that Ragtime celebrates— the plight of immigrants to America, the vast number of cultures that fuse together to make up our country’s story— Calabrese said the show’s enduring themes may be one reason why it remains so vital two decades after its first staging.

“[The message] I really want the audience to come away with is that everyone is the same, we are all human beings. And, just like Lin-Manuel Miranda said, ‘love is love is love.’ No matter where you come from, America is a melting pot. And if it wasn’t, we wouldn’t all be here, would we?”

“Ragtime” will be performed at the Croswell Opera House beginning Friday, September 21 through Sunday, September 30. Tickets range in price from $15 to $35, depending on the tier. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit croswell.org, or call 517-264-7469.