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Overcoming Intolerance:

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Ragtime, presented by Thalian Association
May 19-29
Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m. • Sun., 3 p.m.
Thalian Hall Main Stage
310 Chestnut St.
www.thalianhall.com • $22-25

Colby Lewis and Cindy Hospedales star in ‘Ragtime,’ presented by Thalian Association. Courtesy photo.

“Giving the nation a new syncopation, the people call it ‘ragtime!’”

So the title number goes from the musical adaption of the novel by E. L. Doctorow, “Ragtime” unearths the lives of three distinct sectors of American society in 1906: a well-to-do WASP family, an unmarried African-American couple and their son, and an eastern European immigrant and his daughter. During a period of social unrest, when citizens faced scrutiny based on the color of their skin or the accent of their voices, the characters of “Ragtime” become intertwined as they attempt to overcome adversity at the turn of the 20th century. With music at its core, the play binds the scenes and the families together to divulge America’s history.

The WASP family consists of son (Bradley Barefoot), mother (Katherine Rudeseal) and father (Steve Gallian) who sing of a peaceful home atop a hill where there are “ladies with parasols, fellas with tennis balls” and “no negroes” in the title number. Their Pleasantville lifestyle in New Rochelle, New York, is interrupted by a vibrant and vivacious group of African-Americans from Harlem, including musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Colby Lewis) and his lover, Sarah (Cindy Hospedales). Following their appearance, the audience meets Tateh (Troy Rudeseal) and his daughter (Emilia Torello), Jewish immigrants from Latvia.

With a portrait of small American families painted throughout the show, “Ragtime” also fills in gaps with our nation’s fixation on innovation and celebrity, like that of Harry Houdini and even Henry Ford. The inclusion of such historical figures adds a unique reality to a compelling story, according to Michael Walton-Jones, the director of the Thalian Association production.

“They help highlight the racial temperature of the time, the impact of the revolutionary industrial assembly line, the influence of the giants of U.S. banking, the beginnings of geo-political struggles, the dawn of women’s rights, and the rise of the American film industry,” he says.

The musical, adapted by Terrence McNally, even includes one of America’s first star scandals involving an original pin-up girl, Evelyn Nesbit. Thus, the audience witnesses the growth of public fascination with and media’s exploitation of popular culture. “These figures reinforce the story and help connect the issues of yesterday with the same issues [of] today,” Walton-Jones says. “‘Ragtime’ is about their time and ours.”

The down-home characters like Mother, Sarah and Tateh, somehow come in contact with various real-life personalities throughout the show. Through the scuttlebutt and each person’s close proximity to the rich and famous, “Ragtime” doesn’t lack in pace or interest. Previous Broadway runs even garnered the production a Tony for best musical score in 1998. Walton-Jones claims it is the uplifting and lively tunes that maintain its interest.

“The styles are eclectic, including marches, cakewalks, gospel and ragtime, and [the show] is more like a modern opera than traditional musical theatre,” he explains. “The music is complicated and challenging, but the genius of the piece lies in how well the story is told through the music and how the styles are seamlessly woven together.”

Ultimately, “Ragtime” is a play that exposes America and families from all walks of life who once struggled with deep-rooted issues of intolerance and misunderstanding. “It reveals how we must all find ways to work together for a better tomorrow,” Walton-Jones says, “and leave behind the outdated ideas of racial, economic, political and social isolation.”

“Ragtime” makes its Wilmington premiere on Thursday, May 19 and runs through Sunday, May 29. Thursday through Sunday shows begin at 8 p.m., while Sunday matinees are at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $22 for seniors and students, available at etix.com.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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