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Entertainment & Lifestyle

Top student performers appearing in ‘Ragtime’

6/6/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

The cast of “Ragtime,” the second All-City Musical at the Akron Civic Theatre features students from public and private schools in Summit County.
Bria Neal, of Copley High School, and Jalen Mitchell, of the Akron School for the Arts at Firestone High School, are shown in a scene from “Ragtime.”
Photo: Dale Dong; courtesy of Akron Civic Theatre
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Last year, the first Akron All-City Musical was “Hairspray,” a lighthearted musical with a heartfelt message.

This year, producers at the Akron Civic Theatre wanted to keep that sentiment but present a show that allows teen performers to delve deeper into a story that celebrates the diversity and spirit of Americans.

The result, on stage at the Civic June 14-15, is “Ragtime,” the 1998 Broadway musical that won four Tony Awards. Based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow novel (which was the basis of a 1981 motion picture), the musical is set in the early 20th century and shows how the lives and experiences of three groups of people — an upper class white family, an African-American family and an immigrant Eastern European family —intersect in pursuit of the American Dream.

Val Renner, media/public relations/event manager of the Civic, said the show features “lots of great toe-tapping songs and beautiful ballads.”

“‘Hairspray’ was a fun type of musical,” she said. “We thought, let’s challenge the students a little more, so we looked into ‘Ragtime.’ It’s just deeper; it’s a different kind of production.”

“It’s epic,” added director Mark Zimmerman. “It tells a really large story.”

Telling that story requires a big cast, which made it a good choice for this year’s All-City Musical, Renner said. Students from public and private high schools in Summit County auditioned for the show in the spring and began rehearsals in late April. The cast numbers about 50, with more than a dozen students performing in the orchestra, Renner said.

Lead roles are played by Akron School for the Arts (Firestone High School) students Brian Hirsch, Christopher Humbert, Brandon Kline, Jalen Mitchell and Max Winer; Copley High School students Hallie Heffernan and Bria Neal; Revere High School student Brittany Sigsworth; Woodridge High School student Daniel Lozniak; Our Lady of the Elms student Kay Caprez; and homeschooled West Akron student Noah Casino.

In the ensemble are students from Akron School for the Arts, Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and Akron Early College, and Buchtel, Copley, Revere, St. Vincent-St. Mary and Archbishop Hoban high schools.

The All-City Musical is a unique collaboration that allows performing arts students from throughout the Akron area to work together on a production. Last year, the production culled from just Akron schools, but this year the scope was widened to include schools from throughout Summit County.

“This is such a great opportunity for these young adults,” Renner said.

Bria Neal, of Copley, who just graduated from Copley High School, plays the role of Sarah in the show. She also was in “Hairspray” last year and said that experience made her want to take part in the All-City Musical again.

She said “Ragtime” is a challenge because nearly all the dialogue is sung, but it’s been a great learning experience.

“It’s about being in the show, but you also create this bond with the cast members,” she said. “To perform with friends on stage makes it even more fun.”

Akron Civic officials said the production is supported through the support of PNC and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, as well as the Ohio Arts Council, the Akron Community Foundation, the GAR Foundation, the Mary and George Demetros Charitable Trust and Friends of the Akron School for the Arts.

“Ragtime” will be performed June 14 at 7:30 p.m. and June 15 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Civic, 182 S. Main St. Tickets are $25, $20 and $10 and available at the Civic Box Office, by calling 330-253-2488 or at www.akroncivic.com or TicketMaster at 800-745-3000.

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