Photo Courtesy of George Schiavone
Since its original Toronto production in 1996, Tony Award winning and Carbonell nominated Ragtime has been a beloved musical production for its address of social and racial issues in early 20th century New York. For the past two decades, Ragtime has seen Broadway, London’s West End, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and now Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables. Ragtime will be running until its bow on February 22nd.
“When I saw Ragtime in 1998, I knew I had seen something extraordinary,” said David Arisco, artistic director for the production, who put together the 40-cast ensemble in three weeks. “This was a story that spoke clearly to our American heritage, our growth as a people, and our need to dig deeper.”
In Ragtime, we meet an affluent New Rochelle, NY family that is the epitome of white privilege. Then we meet African-Americans Coalhouse Walker Jr. (Don Juan Seward II), his lady love Sarah (Sarah Nicole Batts) and the rest of their lively crew. Lastly, we meet Jewish immigrant Tateh (Tally Sessions) and his daughter (Julia Dale or Athena Pacanins depending on the day).
We see three very different groups of people with three varying experiences of American life in turn of the century New York: Mother and Father’s only family problem is that Father leaves to go on a trip for a year. Tateh, trying to achieve “the American Dream” toils everyday on the streets trying to sell his pictures. Lastly, Coalhouse has the misfortune of riding around in his new Ford Model T and being tormented by racist firefighters, which becomes a catalyst for Coalhouse seeking justice by going on a shooting rampage, killing whites in his path.
“The music is beautiful, but it’s the story that’s being told is what resonated with me,” said Miami native Seward, a Miami Northwestern High graduate. Ragtime happens to be his favorite Broadway musical. “Everyone deserves justice; no matter how big or how small it may seem to anyone else, what’s right is right and wrong is wrong.”
Coalhouse taking justice into his own hands may not have been the best move in the end, as it caused quite a bit of heartache for him and his family. However, the reasoning behind it is something that we as Americans can understand giving the open season against black males. Regardless of the circumstances, people like Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and Eric Garner did not deserve to die. As it is seen in Ragtime, our justice system was never designed with blacks in mind.
“What the audience is going to take from this is how to love and accept one another,” said Seward, who gives his all in a stellar performance. “God made us all different for a reason, so that we wouldn’t get bored, to learn each other, and to really figure someone out.”
Seward makes an awesome point. Many times, we humans don’t see another person’s point of view until, “sometimes, people don’t get anything until it’s actually put in front of their face.” Racism didn’t stop existing because our president is a black man. It just got swept under the rug for a few years. Now covers have been pulled off and people feel free to be ignorant and intolerant of their fellow man.
Ragtime brings to the forefront that American race issues haven’t changed since the turn of the 20th Century. The more things change the more they stay the same. It’s definitely a very timely piece and Seward is a can’t miss. He’s also one to watch.
“I was overwhelmed with emotions,” Seward told me backstage after receiving a standing ovation for his first official performance as a star of a production. “The applause sent chills through my body.”
It was a well-deserved ovation.