Connect with us


Hot stuff: American Stage readies ‘Ragtime’ in the park

Bill DeYoung



Members of the cast of "Ragtime: The Musical," in costume for the first time, wait for director Erica Sutherlin's opinion. All photos by Bill DeYoung.

It’s 86 degrees in downtown St. Petersburg, and the cast and crew of American Stage’s Ragtime: The Musical, gathered on and around an open stage in Demens Landing Park, are feeling it.

Still, the annual “park” show must go on – Ragtime opens April 12 – and after several intense weeks of song-and-dance rehearsal inside American Stage’s air-conditioned theater building, the large company will meet here, six days a week, eight hours a day, until everything is finely-tuned and pitch perfect.

Costumes for Ragtime, a story of early immigrants and the American Dream, have just arrived.

“This is day one of them putting on clothes,” director Erica Sutherlin says. “I approved the designs, and I saw the renderings, but this is the first time I’m seeing the costumes on the bodies. I get to see what’s working, what’s not working.”

So what’s working? she is asked.

“Well,” she smiles, “I think we got a lil’ journey. Not a big journey. But that’s par for the course. You never really step into your whole costume parade, or costume moment, and go ‘All of this is excellent.’ You adjust.”

Top-tier creatives for “Ragtime”: Heather Beal (choreographer), Macy Smith (costume shop manager), Alexa Perez (assistant director), Erica Sutherlin (director) and Latoya McCormick (musical director).

Ragtime is in “tech week,” Sutherlin explains. “It’s the time where all the other creatives get to add their components – which is great, but that just means everything falls apart. And we have to start shaping it back together. Everybody is still working to find their rhythms.”

The full nine-piece band joined the company at the Demens site a day ago. “We’re still doing the final touches on the set. Sound design is adding sound cues. Everybody’s here right now, that’s where the process is supposed to be.”

The actors, singers and dancers are clearly uncomfortable, in their heavy turn-of-the-century clothes, under the bright afternoon sun. But they, too, know it’s all part of the process.

Around 8:30 or 9 p.m., every day, they run the songs, the scenes and the whole show. It’s cooled off by then, Sutherlin points out, and the atmosphere becomes charged when the stage lights go up. And the magic happens.

“I was sitting here last night, watching, and thinking ‘This is why I do this. This moment, right here.’”

Director Sutherlin and the costume parade.

Teresa L. Williams’ innovative set design for Ragtime features embedded, life-sized “pieces” of the Statue of Liberty. The design was sparked by a suggestion from Sutherlin.

“My whole idea was to deconstruct the Statue of Liberty,” the director says. “I really wanted to question the American Dream, and what it looks like. Is it real? Is it something that’s sustainable or achievable? Has it changed?

Actor Anthony Gervais (“A Number,” “This is Our Youth”) plays Harry Houdini in “Ragtime.” Sutherlin was his theater instructor at the Pinellas County Center for the Arts.

“I decided not to go with a standard set for Ragtime, which, first of all, has 1,500 locations. And because we’re outside, without wing space, and without fly space – it’s not like I can fly in backdrops or things of that nature. I wanted to look at the show differently. What happens if we strip all the other stuff away?

“The Statue of Liberty was designed to be a representation, a symbol of freedom, of the abolishment of slavery. And then it went from that to becoming this beacon for immigrants coming into America. Those two storylines are very much a part of this story.

“I want somebody to go ‘Why did they deconstruct the Statue of Liberty? What’s going on?’ And I want us to have those conversations. Let’s talk about it. What do we stand for?”

For Ragtime details and tickets, visit the American Stage website.



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.