Ragtime Comes To The Jersey Shore

March 7, 2018
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Grace and Jack Sweeney

By Mary Ann Bourbeau |

Two siblings from West Long Branch will be performing together in the upcoming production of the musical “Ragtime,” which runs at the Axelrod Arts Center from March 3-25.

Grace Sweeney, 10, made her off-Broadway debut last summer in “Annie Warbucks” at Signature Theatre in New York City. She has also performed at the Spring Lake Theatre and with Phoenix Productions at the Count Basie Theatre. This will be Grace’s Axelrod debut.

“I’m so happy to be performing with such an amazingly talented cast,” she said. “Musical theater is my one true passion and what’s going to be even more exciting is sharing this with my brother.”

Grace hopes to keep performing and make her career in musical theater.

“It’s fun to do and it’s a great experience,” she said. Jack Sweeney, 12, has performed with Phoenix Productions, Algonquin Arts, Spring Lake Theatre Company and Cabaret for Life. He previously performed at Axelrod in the musical “Gypsy.” He and Grace have performed together in the past, in “A Christmas Story” at the Basie and “Seussical” at Spring Lake Theatre. Their two older brothers, Michael, 22, and Luke, 20, had theater roles when they were younger, so at age 6, Jack decided to give it a try.

“It’s very fun and exciting,” he said. “I enjoy making people happy.”

Jack is hoping to one day become an actor or screenwriter, but for now he is just relishing his time at Axelrod.

Director and choreographer Luis Salgado brings the musical “Ragtime” to the Axelrod Arts
Center March 3 – 25.

“I’m so excited to be playing the role of Edgar in ‘Ragtime,’ ” he said. “My favorite subject is history, and it is great to learn about the time period with such a talented cast and director.”

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That director is Luis Salgado, who assisted Lin Manuel Miranda in choreographing the Tony Award winning musical “In the Heights.” Salgado directed “In the Heights” at Axelrod last year and gave an impromptu Q&A session after ward. It was so well received that he will host a post-show talk with the cast on opening night of “Ragtime,” followed by a reception with the cast in the theater’s lobby.

“The audience’s response to Luis and the cast of “In the Heights” reinforced to all of us why we labor over these productions,” said Andrew DePrisco, Axelrod’s artistic director. “Luis’ mantra is ‘art with purpose’ and the clear purpose to everyone assembled was to bring joy through music, to inspire conversation, to gather as a community, however diverse, and feel connected. The vision, passion and commitment that Luis brings to his work elevates the performers and production team to a surprising new level.”

DePrisco is co-producing this new conceptualization of “Ragtime” with Axelrod CEO Jess Levy.

“I fully trust Luis to recreate this remarkably beautiful show into something that will speak to all of us,” said Levy.

The musical “Ragtime” is based on the 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow. It inter- twines historical and fictional characters, showing the conflict of the upper white class with the black underclass and the straining flow of immigrants into America at the turn of the century. It won four Tony Awards, including Best Book and Best Original Musical Score.

The music was written by Stephen Flaherty with lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, a Neptune High School graduate. She and Flaherty have written many musicals together, including “Lucky Stiff,” “My Favorite Year,” “Seussical” and “Rocky,” as well as “Once on This Island” and “Anastasia,” both of which are currently running on Broadway. Ahrens met Salgado when he performed on Broadway in “Rocky.”

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“I’m very pleased that the Axelrod Performing Arts Center will be putting on ‘Ragtime’ this season, especially since the Jersey Shore is my home turf,” she said. “Luis Salgado is extremely talented and dynamic. Knowing him, I’m sure he will bring his special sensibility and passion to the production and make it something fresh and resonant for these times.” Show dates are at 8 p.m. March 3, 10, 17 and 24 and at 3 p.m. March 4, 11, 18 and 25. Tickets are $35 to $42 and may be purchased at axelrodartscenter.com.

Arts and entertainment writer Mary Ann Bourbeau can be reached at mbourbeau@tworivertimes.com

This article was first published in the March 1-8, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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