Entertainment can offer a welcome diversion from the pressures of everyday life, but it can also help to answer some tough questions. The touring Broadway musical Ragtime aims to do both.
“The message of Ragtime is so tied in with what's going on today,” said Quentin Earl Darrington, who plays the role of Coalhouse Walker, Jr. “The message is one of hope, love, and compassion, and of people coming together despite their differences. It is such a powerful message right now.”
The four-time Tony Award-winning musical, presented by the Theater League of Kansas City, opens tonight at the Stranahan Theater for the first of five weekend shows.
Ragtime's story, based on the best-selling 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, follows the lives of three diverse families, one Jewish, one black, and one White Anglo Saxon Protestant. The timeline starts at the dawn of the 20th century and leads into the beginning of the 1920s, a span that includes the onset of World War I.
“The prologue is about a century exploding in rhythm and rhyme ... explicitly describing the coming of a war - and here we are,” Darrington said in an interview last week.
Thrown into the fictional plot are some characters portraying real historical figures including Harry Houdini, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, and J.P. Morgan.
Amid the tension and turmoil of the times, the characters lose their innocence but find ways to resolve their differences and to work together in search of peace, hope, and liberty.
The musical, written by Terrence McNally with music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, offsets its serious tone with some lighter moments, Darrington said.
“There's a baseball scene that is there to add some comic relief, to get away from the drudgery, and it's hilarious,” he said. “It's my favorite scene.”
The part of Coalhouse Walker is the first starring role on a national touring production for Darrington, 23, of Tampa, Fla. His previous credits include Hollywood Nights, The World of Jacques Brel, and Swing! Swing! Swing!
“I find it an incredibly humbling experience,” Darrington said. “The message I want to convey through the show is to help people, to help heal their lives, to help ease their hurt. I want to lift their spirits and make them smile.”
Mark Tomesek, a Toledo native who was a member of the Theater League production of Annie, returns to the Stranahan as a member of the Ragtime ensemble, alternating in the roles of Stanford White, a Lower East Side policeman, Willie Conklin, a juror, and J.P. Morgan.
Ragtime will be presented at 8 tonight, 2 and 8 p.m. tomorrow, and 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd. Tickets are $29.50 to $38.50 from the box office, 381-8851, and all Ticketmaster outlets.