In the early days of the 20th century, life moved fast just like ragtime, the most popular music of the period.
The students from the Youth Entertainment Stage Company will recreate the tumultuous times with the epic musical "Ragtime," set to run at the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto from July 19-28.
Based on E.L. Doctorow's best-selling 1975 novel, the show follows three families one black, one Jewish immigrant and one whiteAnglo-Saxon Protestant pursuing the American dream.
Mixed in are real historical figures, including automobile manufacturer Henry Ford, educator Booker T. Washington, magician Harry Houdini and anarchist Emma Goldman.
The show won four 1998 Tony Awards, including one for best original score (for lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty) and one for best book of a musical (for Terrence McNally).
The musical is no light-hearted tale and zeros in on the struggles of the period. It unflinchingly examines racism and conflicts between the rich and the working class.
"There was this huge influx of an immigrant population," director Chris Hanks said. "The musical shows how vibrant and how explosive it was. People weren't comfortable at that time."
Hanks is filling in this year for YES founder Melanee Wyatt, who is on leave for health reasons. It's the first YES show Wyatt has not directed since the company began 22 years ago.
Hanks said he has intentionally not consulted with Wyatt much about this year's staging.
"Mel's coming to the show and she gets to be surprised," he said. "It's an honor to her that this can carry out without too much of a hitch and still carry forth its message and traditions."
Once again, the production features a huge cast with 70 performers age 7 through high school representing 44 Stanislaus County schools. There also will be a 24-member orchestra, and elaborate sets created by professional designer Corey Strauss, who has worked with Townsend Opera and Playhouse Merced.
Hanks said he is impressed with the quality of the talent this year. Those he singled out for praise include Annisah Watkins (Sarah), Jessica Weber (Mother), Michael Huckaby (Coalhouse) and Kodi Mattox (Tateh).
But he added that all the performers get a chance to shine. "It's an ensemble show and no one person alone carries the show."
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. July 19-20 and 25-27 and 3 p.m. July 21 and 28
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
CALL: (209) 338-2100