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'Ragtime' relates to modern times

Tom Magnarelli
Kenneth Overton and Andrea Jones-Sojola on the stage at Atonement Lutheran Church Wednesday evening at a rehearsal for "Ragtime."

“Ragtime,” a musical about racism and xenophobia at the beginning of the 20th century is being staged in Syracuse this weekend. And producers of the show say the themes of the show are still relevant today.

Kenneth Overton is a professional actor and singer from the New York City area who came to Syracuse to play Colehouse Walker, Jr., a struggling musician in the musical “Ragtime.”

“My contribution to what's going on in the world today is to bring this alive, to the front,” said Overton. “And I believe everybody deserves great music in their lives no matter where they live, where they come from, how much money they make.”

The show was produced as part of the 45th anniversary of St. David's Episcopal Church's Celebration of the Arts in Fayetteville. Overton brought his friend Andrea Jones-Sojola to play Sarah, the co-starring role.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
The cast of "Ragtime"

“Sarah is somewhat of a complex figure because she was one of Colehouse's former lovers, I guess you should say. And she had a baby by him unbeknownst to him. And she felt like she just couldn't go on raising the baby alone so she actually tried to bury her baby in the yard of someone down the street from where she worked,” said Jones-Sojola.

The baby turns out fine but it does set off a series of events that reveal the aggressive, racist undertones of the society in which they live. Liam Fitzpatrick, the show's director, says they were struck by how the plot relates to some events in the news today.

“It's very painful that there are moments of this show that have happened in the world in the past seven days on the national stage that we have watched happen. The show could be staged today and that's the most painful, it's the most shameful part of the show,” said Fitzpatrick.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
Members of the "Ragtime" orchestra.

But the musical also depicts the early 20th century in New York City as a time of the exciting possibilities that America had to offer to struggling immigrants.

A cast of 47 people run up and down the aisles of the churches where they perform, singing and dancing.  There are 22 people in the orchestra which includes brass instruments, violins, cellos, a harp and an 18 person choir.

“It takes preexisting rags from the turn of the century and other tunes, waltzes, and marches and they didn't necessarily put the tunes from those rags into the show but they wrote tunes modeled on exactly those so you're going to hear things that sound like the pineapple rag,” said Abel Searor, the musical director.

“Ragtime” was made possible through several grants and has two more performances -- Saturday night at Hopps Memorial CME Church  and Sunday night at Atonement Lutheran Church, both on Syracuse's south side.

Tickets to “Ragtime” are $10 and can be purchased by calling 315-446-2112.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.