Open Stage of Harrisburg to end season with ‘Ragtime’

HARRISBURG — In the final production of its ambitious 2018-19 season, Open Stage of Harrisburg is swirling historical and fictional characters in the melting pot that was America in the early 20th century.

These colorful characters pursuing the American dream are featured in the musical “Ragtime,” with 7:30 p.m. performances on May 25, 31 and June 1, 7, 8, 13, 14, 15, with 2 p.m. matinees on May 26 and June 2, 9, 16 at the theater, 25 North Court St.

With a book by Terrence McNally, music by Stephen Flaherty, and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, “Ragtime” is a powerful portrait of three families’ triumphs and tragedies at the turn of the century.

Having seen “Ragtime” three times — on Broadway, Bloomsburg University, and Shikelemy High School — it’s easy to visualize this show as a musical of epic proportions. Except OSH Artistic Director Stuart Landon had a different vision when selecting this rarely produced show as the finale of the 33rd season, which was devoted to telling coming-of-age stories.

Given the challenging task of reinventing “Ragtime” within the cozy confines of OSH’s soon-to-be-renovated theater is Rachel Landon.

The ongoing interactions among three diverse families are the focus of “Ragtime.” The wealthy mother from New Rochelle, New York, the black couple facing prejudice while spearheading the cultural rise in Harlem, and a Eastern European immigrant fleeing with his daughter, are all swept together in this powerful, dramatic musical.

While this production does not feature a cast of approximately 40 actors, big sets, period costumes, and a large orchestra, it still promises to be a highly entertaining, more intimate and simplified version.

“We wanted to boil down the show to what is really needed,” says Landon. “This will be far from the traditional interpretation of the show, or of any musical for that matter. I am concentrating on an interpretative version of the story, so that the audience can concentrate on the characters and scene work from this talented cast.”

Landon’s focus then is clearly on these individuals’ struggles rather than spectacle. The cast of 13 performers will play multiple roles, with basic sets and costuming, and a small pit of four musicians playing the Tony Award-winning score of bluegrass, jazz and, of course, ragtime tunes. (My favorites include “On The Wheels of Love,” “Make Them Hear Me” and “Back to Before”.

As a bonus, OSH theatergoers will experience Artistic Director Stuart Landon returning to the stage. Landon, whose last on-stage role was in “Sondheim On Sondheim” in 2016, will play Tateh, a Latvian Jewish immigrant who realizes that the American Dream may not be attained as easily as he was promised.

From the director’s chair, Rachel Landon believes that “Ragtime” is pertinent now more than ever before.

Landon says, “Audiences get to see the characters on stage go through the same struggles that they face every day. .. (So) what does it mean to be an American?” Maybe “Ragtime” provides the answer!

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