OGDEN — A powerful tale of love and acceptance comes to Peery’s Egyptian Theater this weekend as Ogden Musical Theatre presents “Ragtime.”
Performances will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 21-22, with a matinee at noon on Saturday, in the theater at 2415 Washington Blvd.
Director Teresa Sanderson calls the OMT production a “staged concert,” rather than a full-blown theatrical staging of the musical. She said it won’t really be acted out, and there isn’t a set or full costuming, so “we’ll have to tell the story in a different way.”
Sanderson said the production’s technical crew will help tell the story in lighting and slides projected onto a screen behind the performers.
“There will be a suggestion of costumes, and a couple of props here and there, but it’s really about the music and the message,” she said.
Sanderson, who lives in Layton, attended Ben Lomond High School and calls herself “an Ogden girl, born and raised.” When OMT approached her about this project, she admits she was “terrified.”
“It was so big,” she said. “I’m used to directing smaller, more intimate plays.”
Big indeed. With 30 people on stage and 20 more musicians in the orchestra pit. Sanderson said OMT hasn’t done anything quite on this scale.
“They say you should always do that thing that scares you,” Sanderson said. “I admit to being intimidated taking this on, but I’ve had such a great time.”
With plenty of moving pieces, the musical “Ragtime” is no easy undertaking. Less daunting, according to Sanderson, is the staged concert. At least, that’s what she thought going in.
“You want to believe it’s simplified — that’s what you say in your brain so you don’t feel overwhelmed,” Sanderson said. “But when all the elements come together, you realize just how huge it is.
“So it’s probably good that you’re naive going in,” she added.
More than anything, Sanderson says, she wants to focus on the performers and their musical abilities. As for her role as director?
“Mostly, I just don’t want to get in the way,” she said.
Based on the 1975 E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name, “Ragtime” uses individual experiences to tell the story of three groups of people just after the turn of the 20th century — African Americans, Eastern European immigrants, and the white upper class.
“It’s about love and acceptance, and the melting pot that America is, and that fight we’re still in to achieve equality — for women, for people of color, and for the immigrant population,” Sanderson said.
The director says most of the characters in the production are historically accurate figures. And she said that 1902, the year the play begins, was a “rough time” in America, with immigrants pouring into the country and trying to fit in.
“I wish I could say we’re farther along on the journey to equal rights and treating people with dignity,” Sanderson said. “But I think we’re not through that yet. We still have some things to learn about love and acceptance.”
Sanderson said 2020 is a good time to talk about the issues raised in “Ragtime.” She calls the message “extremely important,” and by offering the play during Black History Month they’re hoping to shine a light on people of color.
Sanderson believes art offers us a way to explore difficult issues that we otherwise might not be willing to tackle.
“I think music draws people in — and in a way that sometimes other things don’t,” she said. “It’s interesting because it allows us to look at things in a different way. That’s what art does.”
Although Sanderson has acted in and directed a number of regional plays, this is the first time she’s worked at Peery’s Egyptian Theater, which she calls “one of the most beautiful spots” for performances. She also considers “Ragtime” one of the most beautiful musicals ever written.
“I think ‘Gypsy’ is my very favorite musical in terms of book and score, but ‘Ragtime’ is right up there,” she said. “And it deals with three completely different styles of music, so you have this interesting blend.”
But beyond that, Sanderson says “Ragtime” offers a chance to see an incredible musical score presented by a couple dozen singers and a full orchestra.
“When else do you get to hear the power of 30 voices and 20 instruments, performing the music of ragtime?” she asked.