Sunday, March 4, 2018 Ezekiel Andrew plays leading role of Harlem pianist Coalhouse Walker, Jr. in "Ragtime in Concert" March 8-10, Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Ezekiel Andrew of Hattiesburg, Miss., is playing the lead role of Harlem’s pioneering pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Revival Theatre Company’s production of “Ragtime in Concert.” The musical, set in New York at the turn of the 20th century, will be staged March 8 to 10 in Sinclair Auditorium at Coe College in Cedar Rapids.

March 3, 2018

CEDAR RAPIDS — Three families whose lives intersect at the turn of the 20th century face many of the same trials their descendants still face 100 years later. Issues of racism, classism, immigration and workers’ rights swirl through personal quandaries and political quagmires.

That is the timeless aspect of “Ragtime,” which Revival Theatre Company is presenting in concert from March 8 to 10 in Coe College’s Sinclair Auditorium, with more than 80 people onstage.

Director Brian Glick grew up listening to the 1998 soundtrack and calls it “the quintessential Broadway show,” heightened by the fact that the story remains relevant. 

“I think it always will be,” he said. “It doesn’t matter when this is done or would be done, but (it’s) very, very relevant” and has “a very clear image in the story of what’s going on in our country, as well.”

Set in New York, the lives of pioneering African-American ragtime pianist Coalhouse Walker Jr. and Sarah, the mother of his child, touch the lives of upper-class white suburbanites Mother and Father, as well as Jewish immigrant and artist Tateh, who brings his daughter from Latvia to chase the American dream. 

All of these fictional characters move among the real-life icons who changed the face of the country, from activist Emma Goldman and escape artist Harry Houdini to inventor Henry Ford, financier J.P. Morgan and Arctic explorer Robert Peary.

“There’s such a well-written opening number that displays that,” Glick said. “You know in the first 10 minutes of the show about what is in everyone’s separate world and what the world is trying to do — and that is mesh these cultures together — and how everybody treats that and reacts to that. So it’s really kind of cool, and then the story takes off after that. It’s really smart how they put it together.” 

Glick and musical director Cameron Sullenberger, the professional troupe’s co-founders, had planned to stage “Ragtime” a couple of years ago. The production rights were pulled, however, because a national tour of the show was coming through the area.

This time around, the rights were available and the timing was right.

“It just seemed like all the components were lining up,” said Glick, 31, of Cedar Rapids. “When we do a concert production, we look for a show that’s going to have good attributes for a chorus, and this show definitely does. There are very few musicals that do, so the list is short and this one was still on it, so it just seemed like, ‘Let’s try it again.’”

“In concert” doesn’t mean the cast stands still with their music and scripts propped up on stands, he said. Instead, the principal actors will appear in full costumes, the orchestra and chorus will be onstage, and the action will be enhanced by video projections and lighting effects, rather than traditional scenery pieces. Props will be at a minimum, and a Model T car that’s typically used in fully staged productions won’t be rolled onto the Sinclair stage, but will be represented another way.

“It has production values,” Glick said of the staging. “We don’t have all the bells and whistles necessarily. We either do something in its place in a different, creative way or we just ignore it as a whole.”

Alvon Reed is choreographing a mix of musical staging, stylistic movement and dance. “It creates a really interesting, dynamic presentation,” Glick said.

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