Kimberly Morgan knows all too well what it’s like to overcome adversity.
Growing up as a small-town girl just outside Oxford, Miss., Morgan was diagnosed with a hearing disability at an early age. Determined to persevere, she represented the state as Miss Mississippi and went on to be a runner-up for Miss America in 2007. Now, Morgan has a starring role in The University of Southern Mississippi’s Centennial production of “Ragtime, The Musical.”
So, how did this former pageant winner-turned-music-teacher land such an important role in the university’s biggest musical theatre production?
After winning the state crown in 2007, Morgan went on to teach music at a school in Quitman, Miss. Longing to pursue her dreams of acting, Morgan left Quitman to continue her education at Southern Miss. She told her students upon leaving, “Even teachers can pursue their dreams.”
Seeking a master’s of fine arts in performance, Morgan began to study in the Department of Theatre and Dance at Southern Miss. When the word got out about “Ragtime,” she jumped at the opportunity to audition for the epic musical. “This is an incredible production that signifies the American dream,” Morgan said.
“Ragtime” is based on a 1975 book by E.L. Doctorow about the inter-connecting lives of three distinct groups: white upper-class, African Americans and West European immigrants. These groups are all in pursuit of “The American Dream” in industrial New York City at the turn of the 20th Century.
“It’s a story of justice, equal opportunity, embracing diversity and the success of all people,” said Morgan. “It has moments of hardship, cultural and racial injustices, socioeconomic inequalities and the hope to have the American dream that’s promised. That’s what ‘Ragtime’ is about. It’s America.”
Morgan plays the role of “Sarah,” who falls in love with the lead male role of Coalhouse Walker Jr. played by Paul Williams, a music education major from Mobile, Ala.
“This show has made me aware of how far we’ve come as Americans,” Williams said. “Though we still have things to work out, I am grateful and blessed to be an African American living in the 21st Century who has the same equal rights and opportunities as everyone else.”
Each turn of the plot is more personal and more emotionally engaging for the audience. At the end of Act II, the cast leaves the audience with a sense of hope for a better tomorrow as they sing, “Wheels of a Dream.”
“This show is a celebration for Mississippi and all of America as we learn to embrace our differences,” Morgan said. “We should be proud of where we came from and the struggles we went through to get where we are.”
“Ragtime” will run March 4-6 at 7:30 p.m. and March 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18 for adults; $15 for faculty, staff, seniors, military; and $10 for students. For more information on “Ragtime,” on the Internet visit www.usm.edu/arts. For tickets, visit www.southernmisstickets.com or call 601.266.5418.
Kimberly Morgan was crowned as the 2007 Miss Mississippi pageant winner.
(Kimberly Morgan and Paul Williams will play the roles of “Sarah” and “Coalhouse Walker, Jr.” in “Ragtime, the Musical.”
About The University of Southern Mississippi
The University of Southern Mississippi, founded in 1910, is a comprehensive doctoral and research-extensive university fulfilling its mission of being a leading university in engaging and empowering individuals to transform lives and communities. In a tradition of leadership for student development, Southern Miss is educating a 21st century work force providing intellectual capital, cultural enrichment and innovation to Mississippi and the world. Southern Miss is located in Hattiesburg, Miss., with an additional campus and teaching and research sites on the Mississippi Gulf Coast; further information is found at www.usm.edu.