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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019 3 weeks ago

'Ragtime' opens Garden Theatre season

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The iconic American musical runs until Sept. 15.
by: Eric Gutierrez Staff Writer

The Garden Theatre’s season opener begs a question to the audience: What does it mean to be an American? 

The classic American musical “Ragtime” hit the Garden Theatre stage Aug. 23 and runs until Sept. 15. Set in New York City at the turn of the 20th century, “Ragtime” takes place during the period of American history known as the Progressive Era. The musical weaves together three unique, yet relatable, American stories that are bound by the themes of family, heart and perseverance. The promise of a bright future brings a Jewish immigrant, a Harlem musician and an upper-class wife to the melting pot of the Big Apple, where their stories come together. Although set in the past, the musical’s message and themes still hold up today, making “Ragtime” an inspirational production that illustrates the true portrait of America.

“It was a time in the United States where various groups of people, ethnicities of people and races of people that hadn’t necessarily had (an) opportunity to meet … had begun to mix in different ways,” Artistic Director Joe Walsh said. “It was a moment in time that created opportunity for some people, and it was a moment in time that actually created fear and division in others. This musical sort of captures that moment in time, and we follow the story of three different groups of people: a white family from New Rochelle, New York; a family from Harlem and an immigrant family from Latvia. We sort of follow their story of how America, at that time, caused these three groups of people to intersect and what that intersection does for them in their lives.”

Walsh added that he’s been a fan of the musical since it opened on Broadway in 1998. He said he’s excited that “Ragtime” is the Garden Theatre’s season opener, because the timeliness of the musical’s themes and message is fitting to the issues America is facing today. 

The role of Harlem musician Coalhouse Walker Jr. is played by Brandon Martin. Photo by Steven Miller Photography.

“I think when it opened on Broadway, it was timely and it was a story that spoke to a lot of people,” Walsh said. “I think, unfortunately, we are now living in a time where it is even more relevant than it was when it originally opened. I think it has a lot to say about people coming together, about humanity, about respect and about the opportunity we have to lift each other up as human beings and to change our own small part of the world to make the world, as a whole, a better place. I think it was chosen to open our season as an opportunity to entertain our audience, to educate our audience and also to make them think a little bit.”

The original production of “Ragtime” features a cast of more than 44 individuals, but the Garden Theatre’s production scales down the cast size to 18. Some actors had to take on two — and in some cases three — separate roles, Walsh said.

One of those actors who takes on multiple roles is Jade Jones, who is a member of the ensemble. 

“I am playing three different roles — the Harlem woman, then a Haitian immigrant (and) a factory worker,” Jones said. “All of those different roles are primarily singing. My lines are usually more so with the Harlem woman (role).”

Jones added that one aspect of “Ragtime” that resonates with her is that the issues that are dealt with in the musical are issues that America still faces today. She also said the musical opened her eyes to other perspectives that she had not thought about before getting involved with the show. 

“Everyone (in the show) has their own attachment to certain scenes,” Jones said. “My attachment is in the first act, more so with the things that are happening in today’s society and what’s happening in the first act. It feels like nothing really has changed or we’re still dealing with the same issues when it comes to the racial injustices with the black community and with law enforcement. And of course I don’t agree that all law enforcement is bad. … There are some good people in law enforcement, and unfortunately with every area (of society) there’s good and there’s bad.”

“Talking with some of the cast, there have been other parts of the show that have even woken me up to a lot of other areas that I didn’t think about (before),” she added. “(There) so many different themes in the show that I think every person will find something to attach to that will hit them emotionally.”

Eric Gutierrez is a staff writer with the West Orange Times & Observer and the West Orange Observer. He graduated from the University of Central Florida in 2015 with a double major in Journalism and Political Science. Contact Eric at...

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