Bay Street Theater is presenting the Musical Ragtime August 2nd through August 28th.
Ragtime’s Director Will Pomerantz spoke to Hamptons.com about musicals and Bay Street Theater.
Why is RAGTIME so relevant now?
Sadly, I would say that RAGTIME is even more relevant now than when it was first produced in 1997. The issues it examines – the role of race in our country’s history, the role of immigrants, and the struggle for women to achieve equality – are powerfully resonant today, and demand deep reflection and examination. And the fact that such issues are dealt with through storylines featuring richly drawn characters and writing of such high quality, makes it even more imperative to produce this wonderful show now.
Why are musicals important in theater?
I consider the musical to be one of the great American art forms, drawing initially on the European traditions of operetta, and the vitality and variety of American vaudeville, to create a new form – the American musical – which would provide the world with some of the best music and theater works created in the last one hundred years. There is an excitement and a verve that one experiences when witnessing a musical, through the melding of the multiple elements of music, text, and movement, that is really unparalleled in the theater.
I am a director of plays and musicals, and I love them both, but there is such a wide variety of skills that are drawn upon when directing a musical, that it sometimes feels like a different endeavor – almost more of an athletic task, like running a marathon. You have to pace yourself and the cast, making decisions regarding when to add certain elements, like props or costumes, light and sound, and how to create a rehearsal schedule that allows music and choreography to be learned, while also focusing on the journeys of the characters and how to shape those, from an acting perspective. It is a huge and ultimately exhilarating task.
How will this production be an original version of this show, unique to Bay Street?
As with Evita, I have collaborated with a wonderful team of designers to create a unique vision for this show. As with Evita, there is a single theatrical setting, within which a panorama of events and storylines takes place, and, as with the last show I directed for Bay Street, we have assembled an astonishingly talented and versatile cast, who will play multiple characters, changing themselves and the set-in front of your eyes as the action unfolds. This production, although it will be the largest cast Bay Street will have ever had on its stage for a musical, will also hold the distinction of being the smallest cast ever to attempt this big show. But finding an intimate way to do what have traditionally been huge shows has become a Bay Street specialty. So, for those who have seen the show in either of its last two Broadway incarnations, this version will feel like something else altogether, and for those seeing the show for the first time, it will be a great introduction to the show, in the way that it focuses on the story and the characters, as well as the theatrical way in which the story gets told.
What will amaze the audience the most?
I believe what will amaze folks most will be the incredible depth of talent in this ensemble. Traditionally, casts for musicals were so big because they wanted great dancers, so they hired a bunch of great dancers; they wanted great voices, so they hired a whole chorus of singers; and they wanted great actors, so they hired great actors who could sing, to play the leading roles. In our case, every one of our cast members is a great actor, singer and mover – they have to be to serve this powerful show, with its wonderful, full score, the incredible emotional journeys these characters take, and the lively choreography by our great choreo team, Chris and Lauren Grant.
I hope folks will also be amazed by how we are able to do such a show on our stage, via what I hope they will find a creative and exciting staging!
What did “you” learn from staging RAGTIME?
Although I have been a fan of the show for a while, since working on it, it has become clear to me that this musical really is a masterwork, and is one of the best shows created over the last fifty years. The way that lyricist Lynn Ahrens, composer Stephen Flaherty and book writer Terrence McNally were able to adapt this sprawling novel with multiple storylines, doing it with incredible humanity, tunefulness and craft is almost unparalleled, in my opinion.
For further information about Ragtime and purchasing tickets visit www.baystreet.org