On Sept. 15 at the new Taj Boston Hotel, controversial playwright/librettist Terrence McNally received the Beacon Award from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts.
The festivities continue this week as “Ragtime ,” the 1997 Broadway musical for which McNally received a Tony Award for Best Book, opens at Dorchester’s Strand Theatre on September 28 and runs through October 7. Producers chose the ethnically diverse Uphams Corner as a particularly fitting neighborhood in which to present this exploration of America’s proverbial status as “melting pot” and “land of opportunity.”
In a brief speech, McNally accepted the ACLU tribute on behalf of himself and fellow honorees, composer Stephen Flaherty and lyricist Lynn Ahrens, who also won Tonys.
The project was conceived at a recent party when Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of MA, met Meg Fofonoff, Artistic Director of the Dedham-based Fiddlehead Theatre Company, and explained how the ACLU was seeking new ways to raise awareness about its activities via the arts.
Fofonoff, both of whose parents were lifelong ACLU members, suggested the ACLU co-sponsor “Ragtime,” Fofonoff’s “personal favorite musical of all time” because it addressed many of the issues the ACLU is concerned with. Rose feels that the musical will help “to keep issues of personal liberty at the forefront of people’s minds during the upcoming elections.”
Fofonoff, as director and executive producer, began scouting possible venues.
She says when she visited the Strand, “I fell in love instantly when I walked in. Besides the Strand opened in 1918 exactly during the period when ‘Ragtime’ takes place.”
Fofonoff wants to ensure that all Dot residents can see this show regardless of their financial situation.
The musical “Ragtime” is based on E.L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel of the same name, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Set at the turn of the last century, Doctorow’s tale interweaves imagined exploits of members of three fictional families (WASP, Jewish immigrant and African-American) with cameo appearances of such historical individuals as Emma Goldman, Booker T. Washington, and Harry Houdini. The novel was ranked among the top 100 English –language novels of the past century by both Time Magazine and Modern Library.
The ACLU “Ragtime,” which features a 16 piece live orchestra, will likely be the most impressive production the Strand has hosted in quite a while.
“Not since 2009’s ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ ’ have we had a show like ‘Ragtime,’” said Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “I know audiences are going to be thrilled when they see the production values and amazing cast.”
Damian Norfleet, who has the key role of Coalhouse Walker, the revenge-bent Harlem piano player, is one of four Equity actors in the show. The 42-member cast includes two Dot residents: Christopher Leon Pittman and Savin Hill’s Sierra Kagen. The stage manager Ryan Anderson just moved to Dorchester a month ago.
Several Dot schools including Codman Academy will be attending the school matinees on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Tickets, which range in price from $25 to $45, may be reserved by calling 866-811-4111 or visiting fiddleheadtheatre.com. However, Fiddlehead is offering very generous “special deals” to Dot groups, schools and individuals. Inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 781 329-1901.