For many actors, cherished roles only come once in a lifetime. But for Kevin Hardy, who plays jazz musician Coalhouse Walker in the Charleston Light Opera Guild’s production of “Ragtime,” a lifetime role has come around twice.
Hardy also played Coalhouse Walker back in 2007.
The musical opens Friday night at the Clay Center and Hardy couldn’t stop singing the show’s praises.
“It’s a great story with great music and I have a great part,” he said.
The award-winning musical, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, covers the early quarter of the 20th century, as America is blooming and changing. The story centers around three families, who watch society change around them.
Hardy’s Coalhouse Walker is a respected and prosperous African American musician in New York’s Harlem, but his status is resented and rejected by whites and he faces terrible losses.
Hardy said, “He’s in search of justice, but it’s not just a personal justice, but justice for his whole race. He just couldn’t take any more.”
The conflicts in “Ragtime” still resonate. They may resonate now even more than ever.
“Eleven years later, we’re still dealing with the same problems,” Hardy said. “There’s still police brutality. There’s still racism. We’re still struggling with immigrants.”
Hardy has performed with the Charleston Light Opera Guild several times over the years. He was the Lion in the 2016 production of “The Wiz,” appeared in “The Civil War” during FestivALL in 2013, “The Color Purple” in 2012, “Dream Girls” in 2010 and “Cinderella” in 2007.
Nearly all of the shows he was cast in featured largely African-American roles, he said. He wished that there were more shows like “Ragtime,” shows that were open to a broader range of races.
“But it’s hard to find shows like that, that people want to see,” he said.
Casting minority-led shows in rural, largely white areas can be difficult, too. Hardy said fewer African Americans audition for roles, which tends exacerbate the usual problems community theater groups have.
“You have to find the people who have the time to commit to a show,” he said. “It takes a lot of dedication to do something like this.”
It also takes wanting to be part of the community and a willingness to do what’s needed, even if that means not being the star.
Hardy said that aside from acting and singing, he’d worked behind the scenes on guild shows and helped with things like lighting.
Rehearsals for “Ragtime” have gone relatively smoothly, Hardy said.
They had one cast member drop out for health reasons, but the show has really come together.
“If anything, I think the show is better, this time,” he said. “It’s a great story mixed with some history and some great music — a real must-see.”
Hardy said the last time around, “Ragtime” was kind of a sleeper hit. The show opened OK, but good word of mouth traveled. People saw it more than once. Seats filled up.
That production was 11 years ago.
“We only have two weekends for this,” he said. “I’d hate for anyone to miss it. I’d get your tickets early.”
Hardy said playing Coalhouse Walker was a once-in-a-lifetime role. It was good fortune that he got a second chance, but he doubted there’d be a third try for him — at least, not if it took another decade for the guild to produce the show again.
“I’d be pushing 70 by then,” he said. “But you never know. Men supposedly hit their vocal prime around 70.”