Broadway comes to Arlington Heights with the musical 'Ragtime'
The musical "Ragtime," which was performed 834 times on Broadway and earned 13 Tony Award nominations, is playing in Arlington Heights with a cast of 80 and 25 orchestra musicians.
"It will make you think, and boy, will it make you feel," says producer Julie Cohen.
This not-your-typical theater piece will be performed at the St. James Parish Center, 820 N. Arlington Heights Road, through Sunday, July 22.
Show director, Kevin Long, known for his work at Harper College and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre says, "The audience will get their money's worth in a million ways and the fact that the cast is so large makes this a musical epic. I think we've put in 10 hours of rehearsal just on the opening number. I refer to it as my mission."
Cohen, a popular singer at St. James, says, "'Ragtime' is a riveting story with powerful songs that address political and economic issues at the turn of the 20th Century by intersecting the lives of an upper-class white family, the African American community, and the immigrant sector. The cast is as authentic as the very script itself and every member has vocals that will knock your socks off."
Appearing in the play are real-life historical figures such as Henry Ford, J.P. Morgan, Booker T. Washington and Houdini. A custom-designed set was constructed over a five-month time span by a team of 20 people. Gorgeous and lush costumes and props were borrowed from area theaters such as the Marriott in Lincolnshire, Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago and Drury Lane in Oakbrook.
The biggest challenge for musical director Tamaron Conseur has been gathering musicians from all over the Chicago area to play the orchestra instrumental parts. "Most are high school students, some are professionals. Except for a harp, for which there was no room, it's the exact orchestration of the Broadway production," Conseur says.
"Ragtime" is choreographed by Erin Saflarski, who instructs early childhood autistic students in a Palatine school. This is her 15th production at St. James, "the biggest one for which I have choreographed." she says. She also performs in the show in the role of Evelyn Nesbit, which is an added challenge.
Cohen's 10-year-old son, Leo, who plays the role of Edgar.
"I've never had a big role like this. I'm really scared about opening night. I might forget one of my lines," Leo said. The young Cohen is performing in his third production at St. James. What he has enjoyed most about the rehearsals is meeting new people and sharing the stage with them.
"The process of putting together a production of this size is months and months of hard work," Julie Cohen said. "We all have kids, and jobs, and other commitments ... I am grateful that everyone stepped up to make the show a top priority in their lives. We want audiences to be blown away."
Compared to the move "Ragtime," Cohen said, "Everything about the stage version of "Ragtime" is better than the movie."
"There's nothing like watching live performers on a stage singing and emoting … hearing musicians bring that music into a character's personality. There is just no way to replicate that," Conseur said.
Show times through July 22 are: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and 1 p.m. on Sunday. For tickets and additional information, visit www.stjamestheatre.org.
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