It's Ragtime at Lees-McRae
Dr. Janet Barton Speer knows it when she sees it.
As director of performing arts at Lees-McRae College, Speer has directed countless musicals, plays and productions whose histories span the centuries.
When she saw Ragtime: The Musical in New York City several years back, she immediately knew it would be a perfect fit for Lees-McRae College (LMC) Summer Theatre.
Its jaunty tunes, lively characterization and historical richness, all representing the diversity of America's cultural makeup, find an ideal backdrop in the High Country.
And on Wednesday, July 28, Speer's glad to bring them to new life.
But production's not without its challenges.
"Ragtime is a very difficult show," Speer said, "because you have so many different people ... and you have to weave all those together. And the music's very difficult, because it's so diverse."
Naturally, that includes ragtime, but add to it the sounds of Jewish klezmer, high-brow opera and more, and the soundtrack spans an entire gamut of melody. As Speer put it, "The music is just stunning. Every song just goes right to the heart, just so full of emotion."
That emotion is tied to Ragtime's characters, all from three distinctly different socio-economic classes in the early 20th century.
Coalhouse Walker Jr. is a Harlem musician, Tateh is a Latvian Jewish immigrant and Mother is the essential WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) from New Rochelle, N.Y.
"It's pure Americana," Speer said. "It talks about immigrants, the African-American experience and the aristocracy. "I love history, and this history lesson concerns the emotion of what it was like to get this country started - the ugly and the beautiful parts. The storylines all converge, much like history in the United States, and that's what happens in the play."
Though the characters are fictional characterizations, history plays a major role, as they meet and interact with historical titans of their time, including Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and Booker T. Washington. Based on the novel, "Ragtime," by E.L. Doctorow, the musical was written by Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens and Terrence McNally, premiering in December 1996 in Toronto, Canada. The show hit Broadway in 1998, followed by a revival in 2009.
"It went forever in New York, and I think people like it for the same reasons - history told through beautiful music," Speer said.
Ragtime: The Musical opens at LMC's Hayes Auditorium in downtown Banner Elk on Wednesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m. Evening shows run at 7:30 p.m. July 28-31 and Aug. 2 and 5, while 2 p.m. matinees run July 31, Aug. 1, 4 and 6.
Tickets cost $24 for adults and $13 for children and students. The box office, located in the lobby of Hayes Auditorium, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, July 6-22, and from noon to 5 p.m. July 27 through Aug. 6.
For more information or to purchase tickets, call (828) 898-8709 or visit http://www.lmst.lmc.edu.