For more than four decades, Larry Anderson has helped to build the reputation of the King of Prussia Players (and lent his carpentry skills to build many of their sets). So it makes sense that he chose the musical RAGTIME to mark the Players’ 60th anniversary and his own final turn in the director’s chair.
The Tony-winning musical based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel paints a portrait of turn-of-the-20th-century America through the songs and stories of different groups of New Yorkers. Harlem musicians, well-to-do suburbanites, and recent immigrants rub elbows with celebrities like Booker T. Washington and Harry Houdini in three interwoven tales as the perspectives and problems of yesterday give way to the promise of America’s future.
RAGTIME can be an ambitious undertaking for any community theater, but Larry Anderson knew it was the perfect choice for his directorial swan song. “I was first attracted to RAGTIME because of the music and the story. All good theater, or art in general for that matter, should make us, the performers and the audience think, and RAGTIME does that. It also presented a challenge to do. The show requires great singers and actors as well as excellent musicians. I wanted to go out on something that was different from the ordinary theater fare, a production that would stimulate conversation, and one that would be remembered as exceptionally good.”
Like the musical’s characters, the King of Prussia Players have seen their ups and downs over the 44 years of Larry’s involvement. The group began in 1956 and held their first performance of LIGHT UP THE SKY in the old Upper Merion High School on Henderson Road. By the time Larry joined in 1972 for the first musical, the group had racked up more than a decade of comedies and dramas. Larry was ready to add his talents with a debut in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING as the percussionist. “I came over to audition for the chorus, but I was beating out a rhythm on the stage and was asked if I played. The next week I brought my drum set and there I sat for the next few years.”
Later, Larry found himself both onstage and behind the scenes. Favorite roles include Brick in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF and Pseudolus in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM, the latter a special memory because he got to work on stage with both of his sons. His offstage roles included percussionist, set designer, and head carpenter, as well as board member and officer. (He is currently president of the King of Prussia Players’ board.)
But the role of director has always been a special one. “As I learned more about theater, I grew from percussionist to assistant music director, then musical director and assistant director. The next logical step was director. The director’s role is extremely difficult when done correctly, but it is a great challenge to take someone’s words and music, and turn that into a theatrical presentation. I started that in 1979 with PROMISES, PROMISES. My wife Carol, pregnant with our first child, played the pregnant wife. People thought we did wonderful makeup and costuming to make it look so realistic. I have had some great fun with the Players, DANCING AT LUGHNASA was a stretch but really rewarding, as was THE MIRACLE WORKER. BRIGADOON and both our productions of THE MUSIC MAN will always be favorites.”
With 2016 marking the King of Prussia Players’ 60th anniversary, Larry felt it was a good time to turn over the directing reins to someone else. “I have seen too many cases of people staying past the time they should leave, regardless of profession, and I didn’t want to be one of those. I wanted to leave when I still felt the urge to create and still had the energy to put in the amount of work it takes to be a good director and teacher. I just felt I was getting tired and wanted that energy to spend with my grandchildren and my wife. By supporting me in something I love to do, she has been a theater widow for a lot of years, and I know that. Even though it was theater at the King of Prussia Players that brought us together, it was time to be Carol and Larry again without the King of Prussia Players being attached to us. The younger people are ready to go on their own.”
The themes of RAGTIME—making connections, taking chances, building dreams, honoring the past and looking ahead to the future—are also reflected in the cast. Newcomers Taylor Helmers (Evelyn Nesbit), Daniel Boyd (Harry Houdini), Tyreese Kadle (Coalhouse Walker, Jr.), Ebony Pullum (Sarah), Glen Haber (Younger Brother), and many more blend with longtime Players Clark Van Hekken, David Moyer, Theodora Morely, and Julie Powell Leavitt, along with Larry’s wife Carol and daughter Collette.
Larry has been overwhelmed by the talent and dedication of the cast and crew for his last turn as director. “The original New York version of RAGTIME is an ambitious undertaking for anyone and seems an almost impossible dream for an all-volunteer community theater, which counts on unknown people to come to audition for roles that some professionals shy away from.”
But he has only praise for cast members both new and familiar. “Everyone worked above and beyond. This show was a true nexus of energy spurred on by the performances of the five characters the authors considered the driving forces of the show. Tyreese Kadle threw himself into the role of Coalhouse Walker, Jr., with an enthusiasm and tenacity seldom seen in community theater. His dedication drove the show both for the cast members and for the audience. He, indeed, shows us ‘The Wheels of a Dream’ apply to all. Collette Anderson used all of her vocal and acting skills to show the growth of the character Mother as she meets many new—and strange for early 1900s America—ideas and concepts. Her solo ‘We Can Never Go Back to Before’ is sung not only to Father, but also the audience. Kai Kasgurian is Tateh, the Eastern European immigrant looking for the promise of America for his daughter and himself and finding only poverty, cold, and hunger, yet still he survives to happier times through sheer determination and creativity. ‘Our Children,’ sung with Mother, speaks to the promise that America still represents to many who seek a new life in a new land. Ebony Pullum came out of nowhere and has created a Sarah who expresses a perfect blend of pathos, innocence, and love of life and hope in ‘Your Daddy’s Son’ and ‘Wheels of a Dream.’ Ryan Haller gives us a Father who is truly numbed by all of the changes in his quiet, perfect world. His heartfelt delivery of ‘New Music’ poses questions for all of us as the world speeds by.”
With a solid foundation in the past and hope for the future, Larry Anderson and the King of Prussia Players offer RAGTIME as a perfect metaphor for both the group and the director.
The King of Prussia Players present the musical RAGTIME March 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7:30pm and March 13 and 20 at 2pm at Shannondell Performing Arts Theater in Audubon, Pa. Details are available at www.kofpplayers.org. Reservations are not necessary for tickets at the door, which are $20 for adults, $15 for students 12 and under or seniors 65 and older. For groups of 20 or more, please contact the box office at (610) 277-9505 to make arrangements.
Theater/Organization King of Prussia Players
Theater/Organization Website: http://www.kofpplayers.org
Theater/Organization Address: Shannondell Performing Art Theater 10000 Shannondell Drive Audubon, Pennsylvania 19403 (Map It)
Theater/Organization Phone: (610) 277-9505