‘Ragtime’ explores American life through diverse characters

‘Ragtime’ explores American life through diverse characters

‘Ragtime’ explores American life through diverse characters
February 26
21:03 2019

Although it was first performed in 1996, the musical “Ragtime” is one that transcends its era.

The play, which will be shown at the Campus Theatre on the Square, explores the lives of three different societal groups in America. Set in New York, the musical explores themes of social inequality, race and discrimination.

Draped in a structured, cream, floor-length dress and a flowered hat secured to her wig, cast member Amanda Hart Bassett laughs with her cast mates as she waits for her costume review. Bassett plays the role of Mother, a “conservative and wealthy but brave and warm-hearted” character. Image by: Kara Dry.

Rodney Morris plays one of the lead roles, Coalhouse Walker Jr., a stubborn and well-educated ragtime pianist. Morris said the musical aims to explore topics about all races and be an educational opportunity for the audience.

“It’s a moment for everybody to learn so much about each race that it makes you think,” Morris said. “It really does. I don’t think it’s specifically for one race.”

The three societal groups examined in “Ragtime” are the New Rochelle ensemble, the Harlem ensemble and the immigrant ensemble. Each group’s personal struggles and successes are shown throughout the musical.

“Every character, whether they’re speaking or not, has some type of growth,” UNT theater senior Micaela Workman said. “Especially the leads. You just see where they come from to where they end up at the end of the show. You see everything, [including] the sacrifices, the hardships that they’ve gone through.”

Anthony Ortega plays Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia who has big dreams for himself and his daughter. However, when his character comes to America, his experience in the country is not what he expected.

“He’s hit with these life difficulties that just keep blocking him and putting him down,” Ortega said. “You just see that weigh on him and [he makes] some decisions to try and better his life each and every day just to make sure his little girl has a better life.”

Swallowed by an oversized suit, ensemble member Tommy Toliver prepares for a costume review. “Ragtime” stresses the importance of accurate period costumes for the turn-of-the-19th-century musical and makes efforts to ensure the wardrobes are tailored to fit. Image by: Kara Dry.

The show has several historical characters, including Henry Ford and J. P. Morgan. Performers said that historical context is important to the show.

“It’s right about the time that [America] started the Industrial Revolution,” lead actress Amanda Hart Bassett said.”[We] kind of pay homage to Henry Ford in the show and it’s right around that time when everyone is kind of swarming into America to start new lives.”

Bassett and Morris said “Ragtime” is not often performed, which is why they auditioned for it even though they are not from Denton.

“It is kind of a monster of a show,” Bassett said. “It’s just a huge cast [with] huge singing abilities. I’d say it’s comparable to, in vocal style, ‘Les Mis’ because it [has] a ton of songs. It’s almost nonstop singing.”

Ensuring her wigs are in tip-top shape, Lona Wolfe prepares them for costume review at an evening rehearsal. Wolfe has been a wig-maker for about 20 years and made 13 wigs for “Ragtime” as well as several facial hair pieces. Image by: Kara Dry.

Bassett and Morris are performing for the first time with Denton Community Theatre. Ortega has performed with Denton Community Theatre in the past and this will be his 10th show. He said he is excited for “Ragtime” because it is different than what he has done before in Denton.

“I’m really excited to do this [musical],” Ortega said. “This one is going to definitely be out there. I’ve not been able to showcase this side of my acting ability here so I’m excited to share it.”

Featured Image: Before costume review at an evening rehearsal, ensemble member Isaiah McDaniels (right) gets help preparing his look from a fellow cast member. McDaniels, along with many other performers, changes his costume multiple times throughout the musical. Image by: Kara Dry.

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Raquel Villatoro

Raquel Villatoro

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