IT'S TIME for the final theatrical production of the SCAD school year—and the Performing Arts department ain't messin' around.
“It’s huge!” declares Performing Arts chair and director Michael Wainstein. “There’s 42 people in it!”
Based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow, Ragtime tells the story of three families—an African-American family from Harlem, Jewish immigrants from Latvia, and upper-class whites from New Rochelle, New York—and what happens when their paths cross.
Kevin Wallace serves as musical director, bringing the Tony Award-winning playbook to new life with its gospel, cakewalks, marches, and, of course, ragtime.
A distinctly American tale, Ragtime ironically had its world premiere in Toronto in 1996, going on to a Broadway opening in 1998. Though it’s set at the turn of the 20th century, Wainstein points out that the play’s honest talk of race relations and police brutality makes it a coincidentally timely performance in light of Freddie Gray’s murder and the ensuing Baltimore riots.
“It’s based on the book Ragtime, about an injustice done against a black man in 1906 in New York and sort of the mayhem that ensued as a result,” Wainstein explains. “It’s very timely—we didn’t pick it for that reason, it just happens.”
“It’s also a really powerful story about America with a lot of historical figures,” he continues.
Keep an eye out for illusionist and stunt performer Harry Houdini, chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit and her husband, architect Stanford White, revolutionaries Emma Goldman and Booker T. Washington, historic businessmen J.P. Morgan and Harry Kendall Thaw, and Henry Ford, and explorers Robert Peary and Matthew Henson. They all have a hand in guiding Ragtime’s central characters: Coalhouse of the Harlem family, Tateh of the Jewish immigrant family, and Mother of the New Rochelle clan.
Kat Moser, a SCAD Master of Arts candidate in her second year of the Performing Arts program, takes on the role of Mother.
“It’s one of the most difficult roles I’ve done,” Moser shares. “The most prep I had to do was physically embody her class and stature, and being that lady who is very proper. She’s being affected by all these things happening throughout the show, and has a complete change. To really find out what her journey is—that was really challenging.”
The expansive cast comprises SCAD undergraduate students, graduate Performing Arts students, and six talented teens from Savannah Arts Academy. And while the lavish casting is certainly a trademark of Ragtime, the sumptuous set is not to be ignored. Behind the scenes, there’s a bustling crew helping out with the multimedia performance, which utilizes projections in addition to the already-entrancing song-and-dance-fueled show.
And as if the contributions of the stellar Production Design department wasn’t enough to make for a killer visual experience, Wainstein says the Lucas Theatre’s setting couldn’t be more appropriate.
“It’s from the same period, literally!” he laughs. “There’s a vaudeville number in the show, and it literally could have been at The Lucas.”
Moser feels the production is important for people of all walks of life to see.
“Yes, we’ve changed as a society, but there are still ideas and things that are still stuck with us,” she points out. “And to be able to see what our history was like—and how much we’ve grown, and how much we need to grow even more—it’s really great to see in a show with such beautiful music. I think people will be moved.”