Wes Hanson, scene shop supervisor for The Department of Theatre and Dance at The University of Southern Mississippi, shows off the 1909 Ford Model T replica that will be used in the upcoming production of “Ragtime, the Musical.” (Office of University Communications photo by Steve Rouse)
A full-scale replica of a Ford Model T will glide across the stage of the Mannoni Performing Arts Center surrounded by a towering set in The University of Southern Mississippi’s upcoming production of “Ragtime, the Musical.”
The elaborate production, which coincides with the university’s yearlong Centennial Celebration, debuts at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 4 on the Hattiesburg campus. The Tony-Award winning musical comes to life on stage thanks to the extraordinary talents of student musicians and masterful designers.
Based on the classic E.L. Doctorow novel, “Ragtime” is a collaborative production by the Southern Miss School of Music and Department of Theatre and Dance. This sweeping musical, set in the volatile and diverse melting pot of New York at the turn of the 20th Century, features a lively cast of 36 and a grand, 25-piece Symphony Orchestra.
While the sheer number of faculty, staff and students involved is amazing, the audience will notice immediately the immense set that required numerous facility upgrades and renovations.
Stephen Judd, associate professor of theatre, describes the space he designed as an enormous opportunity and challenge that members of the department have been planning for months.
“We felt like we wanted to do justice to this large piece,” Judd said. “Really, filling the theatre and making it as spectacular as we can is something that was in all our minds.”
More than 300 lighting fixtures were brought in especially for the performance. Craig Dettman, assistant professor and lighting designer for the show, was delighted to add his special touch to the performance.
“During the weeklong load-in, we’ve run over 5,000 feet of cable and have used almost every piece of equipment in the theatre department,” Dettman said. “We’ve had late, late nights, and it’s been a lot of fun, but a lot of work.”
Thomas Sowers, a theatre major and native of Starkville, Miss., designed distinctive sounds from the early 1900s for the production.
“It’s been a challenge to make certain the sound effects are historically accurate,” Sowers said. “Trying to recreate the sound of a flare gun from 1903 – you’re not just going to find that on the Internet.”
One of the most memorable moments in the show occurs when a full-scale 1909 Ford Model T drives onstage at the culmination of a big production number. Audiences across the nation typically burst into applause as the vintage vehicle takes center stage. Local audiences have another reason to cheer - the car was built completely from scratch by scene shop supervisor, Wes Hanson, who also plays the role of “Grandfather” in the show.
“We dug out a 1928 Model A frame from the ground in Lumberton and have resurrected that into a fully operational (Model T) vehicle that plays a significant role in the production,” Hanson said.
“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.
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.