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'Ragtime' takes the stage at Peoria Players

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Tateh  Daughter
Coalhouse  Sarah
Mother  Father edit

The musical “Ragtime” was perhaps the most successful show produced by Peoria Players in the last decade and one of the most enjoyed in the theatre’s long history. That’s why bringing it back 10 years after its regional premiere at the city’s oldest community theatre isn’t a surprising move.

In fact, it’s one audiences have been asking for, said Steve Bortolotti, who directed the 2004 show and is directing the new production, which opens Friday at 7:30 p.m. and runs through Sunday, Sept. 14.

“There has been a real push to do the show again and it has been considered the last couple years. We just couldn’t seem to fit it into our last couple seasons. So we decided to produce it this year, on its 10th anniversary,” Bortolotti said.

“People who saw the show in 2004 loved it and its popularity seemed to take on its own life for a few years, with people wanting us to do it again. When I was asked by the play selection committee if I was interested in directing it again this year, I was ready,” he said.

“Ragtime” is based on the 1975 novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow. The musical book was written by Terrance McNally, with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens.

It tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early part of the 20th century and portrays how different their lives were.  The groups are African-American, upper-class suburbanites and Eastern European immigrants. It includes numerous historic figures, as well, include Henry Ford, Booker T. Washington, Evelyn Nesbit and Harry Houdini.

The history that is told in the musical and the historic figures represented may be one reason “Ragtime,” while loved by most who see it, isn’t done much at the community theatre level, said Bortolotti. “It is a wonderful show with great music, but the music is tough. And it’s a heavy drama and some theatres are afraid to touch heavy dramas for musicals. And with the historical figures audiences may need to be educated about some of them,” he said.

Another factor is that “Ragtime” is a big show for period costumes. Sandy Cheeseman is Bortolotti’s costume chair for this production, as she was in 2004, and the show has about 350 costumes.

In fact, Bortolotti would have qualms about directing the show again with Cheeseman and other “go-to” people who work his productions. That includes Michelle Loeffler, who choreographed “Ragtime” in 2004 as well as this year.

The music director for this production is Camilla Russell.

But only one cast member is the same. Ryan Stevenson again portrays Younger Brother in the suburbanite family headed by Father (Steve Post) and Mother (Anne Gonzalez).

The African-American group is headed by Coalhouse Walker, portrayed by Aaron Bolden of Rockford and Juanita Williams.

Bob Khoury is Tateh, head of the Jewish immigrant group.

Each group has its own chorus.

“We decided to audition every part new this time and use a whole new, fresh approach. It has worked out well. Our cast is wonderful and dedicated,” he said.

He cited Bolden, who wanted so badly to play the role of Coalhouse he is commuting between Peoria and Rockford and back every night. “I knew I wanted him for the role but I didn’t know if it was possible. But when I asked him about it he guaranteed me it would be no problem, and he’s been here every night. It’s worth it to him and I’m glad it is. This guy is great,” Bortolotti said.

“Ragtime” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 5, 6, 10, 11, 12 and 13 and at 2 p.m. on Sept. 7 and 14. Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for those 18 and under. For the Wednesday, Sept. 10 performance adult tickets will be $15.

To purchase tickets visit www.peoriaplayers.org or call (309) 688-4473.

 

About the Author
Paul Gordon is the editor of The Peorian after spending 29 years of indentured servitude at the Peoria Journal Star. He’s an award-winning writer, raconteur and song-and-dance man. He also went to a high school whose team name is the Alices (that’s Vincennes Lincoln High School in Indiana; you can look it up).