Hickory – One of the most pivotal characters in Ragtime the Musical is Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a jazz musician seeking justice for himself and his family. Local actor Donovan Harper is taking on this compelling role in the Hickory Community Theatre’s upcoming production, which will be on stage in the Jeffers Theatre from May 11th through the 27th.

Harper is on stage frequently at the Theatre, with eleven productions to his credit over the past four years. His most recent role was Walter Hobbs, the father of Buddy the elf in Elf the Musical. His other notable roles include Roger Davis in Rent, Laertes in Hamlet, and the Cowardly Lion in The Wiz. When he’s not on stage he works as a direct care worker with The Arc of North Carolina, a statewide advocacy and service organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.

Ragtime the Musical, like the novel on which it is based, tells the story of three groups in the United States in the early 20th century: African Americans, represented by Coalhouse Walker, Jr., a Harlem musician; upper-class suburbanites, represented by Mother, the matriarch of a white upper-class family in New Rochelle, New York; and Eastern European immigrants, represented by Tateh, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia. These fictional characters interact with others that are based on real, historical figures. Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, J. P. Morgan, Henry Ford, Stanford White, Harry Kendall Thaw, Admiral Perry, Matthew Henson, and Emma Goldman are all represented in the story.

While most of the fictional characters are entirely the creation of the novel’s author, E.L. Doctorow, Colehouse is one that blends fact and fiction. The well mannered, soft-spoken, black jazz musician is believed by some to be partially based on Scott Joplin, the jazz composer who was dubbed “the king of ragtime.” Parts of the plot also closely mirror elements of Joplin’s opera Treemonisha, when a black baby is found under a tree, just like in the novel/musical. The baby in the opera eventually becomes a black culture icon, just like Colehouse’s son in the novel and the musical. Further blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Doctorow named the character of Coalhouse after a character named Michael Kohlhaas who suffers a similar humiliation in an 1811 novella published by Heinrich von Kleist. Both men pursue justice, and both meet the same tragic end.

Performances of Ragtime the Musical are Fridays and Saturdays (May 11, 12, 18, 19, 25 & 26) at 8:00pm, Thursdays (May 17 & 24) at 7:30pm and Sundays (May 20 & 27) at 2:30pm.

Tickets for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $10 for students and youth 18 & under. Thursday night tickets for adults and seniors are $16, students and children are $10. Tickets are on sale online at hickorytheatre.org or through the Theatre box office, in person or by phone at 828-328-2283. Box office hours are 12-5 Wednesday through Saturday.

HCT is a Funded Affiliate of the United Arts Council of Catawba County. The 2017-2018 Season is sponsored by Paramount Automotive and A Cleaner World. Ragtime the Musical is produced by The United Arts Council of Catawba County, The City of Hickory Community Relations Council, The Hickory International Council and David and Susan Walker.

Photo: Donoval Harper is Colehouse Walker in Ragtime, opening May 11th at the Hickory Community Theatre Performances run through May 27th on the Mainstage in the Jeffers Theatre. Click www.hickorytheatre.org or call (828) 328-2283 for tickets and information. Photo by John Koval.