A Story About Us: An Interview with Peter Rothstein

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By Kwapi Vengesayi, Community Engagement Specialist

On December 8, 1996, Ragtime, a musical based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, celebrated its world premiere at the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Fourteen months later, on January 18, 1998, it made its Broadway debut, which marked the beginning of what would be a two-year run: 27 previews, 834 performances, 13 Tony Award® nominations and four wins, including Best Book of a Musical and Best Score.“The original production was glorious,” says Peter

“The original production was glorious,” says Peter Rothstein, director of The 5th Avenue’s production of Ragtime. “It had a huge and incredible cast, it was an epic production; it was theatrically thrilling.” Peter Rothstein is the Founding Artistic Director of Theater Latté Da based in Minneapolis. 

Peter Rothstein is the Founding Artistic Director of Theater Latté Da based in Minneapolis. In fall of 2016, Rothstein directed a new, reimagined
version of Ragtime. With a scaled down cast of just 15 actors—11 adults and four children—Theater Latté Da’s production presented a new take on the original musical. As Rothstein continues to develop the show, this number has also adjusted. The 5th’s
production features 13 adults and four children.“I intentionally said there would be no chorus.

“I intentionally said there would be no chorus. The production would engage just the principal characters.” For example, in the opening number when the immigrants are introduced, the entire cast is onstage singing, but the event is focused in such a way that the audience observes only the Jewish immigrant Tateh and his child rather than a full chorus of immigrants. As a result, the central characters are given more attention, more focus.These principals then serve as the ensemble,

These principals then serve as the ensemble, chorus and narrators of each other’s stories. When Coalhouse is purchasing a Model T, you’ll see the rest of the cast playing the factory workers. This allows the audience to spend more time with each actor than they would in a more traditional large-scale production. It also underlines a central metaphor in the piece. “As a community, as a nation, we are personally responsible for each other’s story. I believe that,” Rothstein says.“Ragtime is about our core values as a nation.” At a

“Ragtime is about our core values as a nation.” At a time in which the nation’s social and political climate has been abrasive when it comes to conversations about identity, Rothstein feels that Ragtime is a production that will inspire dialogue. Anchored in the narratives of three characters—a Jewish immigrant, an African-American musician and an affluent white woman—this musical weaves these stories in a profound and beautiful way as it explores the different relationships the characters have within the power structures of the nation.


Click here to get tickets for Ragtime at The 5th Avenue Theatre.


 

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