Renowned for its innovative and impactful theatrical work in St. Louis, Gateway Center for Performing Arts is producing one of its most epic musical endeavors yet — “Ragtime.”

“This production pulls out all the stops, including aerial effects by On the Fly Productions, the functioning Model T Ford used in the national tour, and a large live orchestra,” said GCPA Executive Director Paul Pagano, who is directing the show.

“This is a very deep, emotional, and complicated story. These young artists are telling it with a wisdom that is beyond their years. They understand what it means to fight for equity far better than I did at their age. I learn a lot from them. My hope is that through their telling of
this story, you will learn from them, too,: Pagano said.

The musical will be staged for four performances at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center April 19-21, with showtimes at 7 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday.

“Ragtime” intertwines the lives of three families – white, black and immigrant – navigating the vibrant and tumultuous landscape in turn-of-the-century America. The lush Tony award-winning musical score by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty sets the backdrop for this powerful tapestry, delving into the complexities of racial tensions, social change, and the pursuit of the “American Dream.”

GCPA’s talented and passionate young cast, under the direction of a diverse powerhouse creative team, tell a story that not only revisits the struggles of the past, but also holds a mirror to the present, inviting audiences to reflect on how much has truly changed, and how much remains the same.

“My role was to research this show, but I really learned the most from the actors in this cast,” said Dramaturg Kate Schuler. “We can – and should – learn about racial injustice in school, but learning directly from the performers, having open conversations and how the story of “Ragtime” resonates with them as they bring it to life, has been so Important. We need to keep having these conversations.”

Zion Thomas, a GCPA alum now joining the creative team as Assistant Director, shared his perspective. “We see the protagonist, the passionate and adventurous Coalhouse Walker Jr., grow angry and violent as the story unfolds. His actions are a calculated response to all he has lost. They come from the mind of a man who screams for respect yet has found no other way to be heard. I do not excuse his actions, but I do understand them.”

“In my opinion, one cannot focus on Coalhouse’s violence without first dwelling upon what drove him to it: the defilement of his dignity, the inability to obtain legal justice, and the brutal murder of his love with impunity. Like all people, Coalhouse sought common decency and respect. And when it was denied him, he demanded it. I hope you fall in love with Coalhouse, but more importantly, I hope you hear his plea. It is one that many cry to this day,” he said.

Ragtime takes a hard look at the connection between the injustices of the past and the present, but it also calls audiences to action for the future. Aurora Lindsey, who plays Sarah’s friend, shared the impact of connecting with community while developing her character.

“Working alongside this gifted cast, especially in a group of gifted black friends, I have experienced such deep connection as we’ve grown together through telling this story. My character experiences a lot of pain, but she has taught me the importance of even through pain, always taking the chance to lift people up, create change, and move forward.”

Activist Emma Goldman is played by Grace Cooperstein, who reflected, “I’ve learned from my character how to speak up and use every opportunity to make change. My sword is my voice.”

And James Davis IV, who is a part of the Harlem Ensemble and plays Coalhouse’s Follower, said: “Ragtime illuminates the very real discrimination we still face today, but my takeaway is that these characters never gave up and never stopped fighting for their joy and for their dreams. We have the power. especially when we are family together, to make change. When opportunity strikes, don’t linger in the noise. Keep going.”

The choreography is by Laura Roth and Lawrence Haliburton and Lori Pagano is the music director.

Tickets are available through Metrotix or the KPAC box office for $15-26 and can be purchased through Student
tickets are available on Saturday night for $15. You can avoid Metrotix fees by purchasing directly from the KPAC box office.

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