A&E

Woodside Community Theatre performs 'Ragtime'

Musical deals with immigration, racial issues in early 1900s

By Kate Daly | Special to the Almanac

Months ago, Woodside Community Theatre reached out to the larger community to find a diverse and talented cast for its fall musical, "Ragtime." As a result, many fresh faces will be appearing on stage at the Woodside High School Performing Arts Center from Oct. 21 through Oct. 30.

The cast of 56 ranges in age from 8 to 80, with experience varying from performing on Broadway to never having been in a show.

Some veteran WCT actors are back for another season as well as most crew members, led by Gary Stanford Jr. of Woodside, who is directing his first WCT show.

"I've done a lot of work to bring in these folks from the East Bay and South Bay, so as a production for WCT, this is a very new experience," he says. "A third of the cast is African American."

The Tony Award-winning musical is based on E.L. Doctorow's novel of the same name. Terrence McNally wrote the book; Lynn Ahrens, the lyrics; and Stephen Flaherty, the music.

The show depicts three New York communities: New Rochelle, Harlem and the Lower East Side at the turn of the 20th century and how they deal with issues that still feel relevant today.

"It's just fascinating, everything is there social values, police brutality and perceptions of race," Mr. Stanford says.

He's been in "Ragtime" four times, but now that he's directing it, he says, "It feels like starting from scratch and recreating the story."

He's staging the show a little differently in hopes of helping the audience follow along better.

Akio Patrick of Woodside has designed a multi-level set with a 30-foot bridge and stairs to help move people around. He's hanging two large scrims in the foreground so digital images can be projected to show quick scene changes.

He figures he and light designer Don Coluzzi of Portola Valley have spent dozens of hours scouring the internet for photos to transport the audience from a garden in New Rochelle to Harlem, Ellis Island, a ship deck, another ship deck, and a train station, for example.

"It's probably the most ambitious set and story we have had," Mr. Patrick says, grateful to be assisted by a team that includes his brother, Steve, the builder, and Steve's wife Tina, the set painter.

Mr. Patrick feels they have it easy compared to his wife, Karen Patrick. She along with another former Woodside High School parent, Lyndesay Adams is in charge of costumes and some actors have as many as eight outfit changes.

Ms. Adams' husband, Bob, is playing in the orchestra.

As for leads, Dedrick Weathersby and Leslie Ivy are reprising the same roles they played at Stage 1 Theatre's production of "Ragtime" at Ohlone College last July. He's Coalhouse, the ragtime pianist and she's Sarah.

Another lead, David Martin, has done "Ragtime" three times before and said he is excited to be cast as the Jewish immigrant Tateh in his first WCT show.

Adrienne Herro is playing the upper class New Rochelle Mother, a departure from Velma Kelly, her leading part in WCT's "Chicago" last year.

San Franciscan Sean Michael Grady has his Screen Actor's Guild card and sought out WCT so he could perform a role on his bucket list, Younger Brother.

Gary Ferguson's resume includes Broadway productions and serving as dance captain for the Radio City Rockettes. He now teaches dance at Mercy High School in Burlingame and has joined the ensemble plus brought in his student, Amelia Threatt of Menlo Park, to do a pas de deux in the show.

Her brother, Evan, a student at Las Lomitas, is the youngest cast member. He is making his stage debut as Coalhouse Jr.

The oldest cast member, Jose Spencer of San Jose, is back in the ensemble after appearing in Woodside Community Theatre's "The Sound of Music" a couple of years ago.

Local ensemble cast members include Fiona Ryan of Woodside, Rex Bressler and Cheryl Pasanisi of Menlo Park, Woodside School student Kate Cornyn, and Woodside High students Samantha Ayoob and Sofia Constantini.

Former Woodside High parent Darrell Batchelder is back in the ensemble this year. So is Lydia Cuffman, a teacher at Sequoia High School, and Elizabeth Lawrence, who appeared in WCT's "The Producers" and "The Sound of Music."

The actor playing Father is Brandon Savage. He went to Hillview Middle School, where the group has spent many hours rehearsing when it wasn't in the newly redone Sellman Pavilion at Woodside School (named after the late George Sellman of Woodside who directed WCT and eighth-grade operettas for years).

This show is dedicated to the late Richard Gordon of Woodside, who served as music director at WCT, led the orchestra for many eighth-grade operettas, and directed the Woodside Village Band. He died Sept. 12.

Kristin Pfeifer, vocal director at Sacred Heart Prep in Atherton, is now WCT's music director. Newcomer Ariela Morgenstern has filled Ms. Pfeifer's old spot as WCT's vocal director.

Kim Harvath returns as choreographer.

Donna Losey, Liz Matchett and Mark Bowles are co-producing again, and Mr. Bowles is also acting in various roles. Ms. Matchett's husband, Richard Vaughan, directs Hillview's instrumental program and is playing cello in the orchestra.

Fletcher Johnson is operating the Vortek computer that moves parts of the set.

Alex Rubin of Emerald Hills is off stage this time, serving as assistant director.

Karen Peterson of Woodside is back helping in publicity and house management.

Grant Huberty of Woodside is a new volunteer working on sound design. He said he's thrilled to be back at his alma mater after spending decades in the music production business.

Also new to WCT is the director's brother, Kevin Stanford, head of props.

Show times

• Show times are Friday, Oct. 21, and Saturday Oct. 22, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 23, at 2 p.m.; Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 30, at 2 p.m.

• Go to woodsidetheatre.com or call (800) 838-3006 for tickets.

• Tickets are $15 for students and those in wheelchairs; $28 for seniors; and $32 for others. Depending on demand, tickets may be available at the door. The theater is located on the Woodside High School campus at 199 Churchill Ave. in Woodside.

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