By Neil Shurley
For the next three weekends, Greenville Little Theatre brings to life the epic, Tony-award winning musical “Ragtime.” The cast includes Meg Foster, Jessica Eckenrod, Luke Browder, Jon Kilpatrick, and Khristin Stephens along with Delvin Choice, who received national fame in 2014 as a top 8 finalist on NBC’s “The Voice.”
“Ragtime” chronicles the lives of three distinct groups in turn-of-the-20th-century America: African-Americans living in Harlem, N.Y.; upper-class suburbanites living nearby in genteel New Rochelle; and Eastern European immigrants living wherever they can. Many of the characters cross paths with historical figures, including Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, and Booker T. Washington. Choice plays the pivotal role of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a pianist who introduces all three groups to a new kind of music: ragtime.
“The audience can expect a lot of things: great music, costumes, and sets, but they can also expect the truth,” Choice says. “This is a 20th-century story that is still relevant today. Many of the issues you will see onstage are just as prevalent now as they were in 1906. This is one of the reasons I decided to do this show.”
Jamie Anne Walters, who plays the country’s first pinup girl, Evelyn Nesbit, sees the show as a look at the American dream and what that means to every person, from struggling immigrants to established suburbanites to celebrities like Harry Houdini and Evelyn and Booker T. And it’s all centered on the music. “It’s predominantly sung through,” she says. “But there’s a lot of dialogue within the songs, and depending on what story you’re hearing, the music is very different. You will hear a Jewish influence from the immigrants, and you’ll hear sort of crisp, clean music in New Rochelle, and then it’s very in-your-soul and deep in Harlem, because those are the types of music that were influencing their lives. And it all begins to meld as the show moves on.”
“You really get the opportunity to see who these people really are and how they really are,” Choice adds. “People start putting aside their preconceptions and get to actually know one another.”
While “Ragtime” the musical is based on the popular 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, ragtime music as a genre stems primarily from the work of pianist Scott Joplin. But for Choice, it’s much more than that. “We speak about ragtime as a music style, but it’s almost as if ragtime is something else to us in this show,” Choice says. “It’s not just music — it’s a feeling, which is how music is and how theater is. I can create a sound and when you hear it, it touches you in your own special place, in your own special way, and you’re able bring your own thing to it.”
“This is one of those shows that will captivate your eyes with the visual effects while it also tugs at your heart strings,” Walters says. “It’s very much a spectacle, including a Model T Ford on stage, and Houdini hanging from the ceiling.”
For Choice, the show’s most impressive spectacle is the human kind. “This is one of the greatest casts that I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work with,” he says, “not just at this theater but in general.”
“This show means so much to every single one of us,” Walters says. “This is a story we want to tell and share, and it is such a joy and honor to be a part of it. How can you not just want to get up on the stage every night and give your best work?”
“In this show, people can look forward to great music as well as something that is going to captivate your mind,” Choice says. “It is a great musical.”
WHEN: March 9, 10, 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24 at 8 p.m.; and March 11, 18, 25 at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Greenville Little Theatre, 444 College St.
INFO: 864-233-6238, www.greenvillelittletheatre.org
“Ragtime” contains some mature themes. GLT rates it PG-13.