The musical "Ragtime," based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, may be the most challenging production the Hilliard Arts Council has attempted to date.

The musical "Ragtime," based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, may be the most challenging production the Hilliard Arts Council has attempted to date.

"This is a show that is not done very often in community theaters," said director Robin Brenneman. "We're one of the only ones to do it in the area, and it's partially because it's demanding musically, and it requires a multi-ethnic cast. We weren't even sure that we were going to be able to attract the people that we needed for it, but fortunately we did and we're delighted about that, because we want to branch out and get more folks involved.

"Hilliard has become more diverse, and we wanted to reflect that in what we chose to do with our show," she said.

"It's a very difficult musical," said Ken Brenneman, who will lead a 20-person orchestra in 25-30 numbers. "It's PG-13 because it talks about the ragtime era. There are problems with African-Americans, immigrants and the richer set, and these storylines run through the show, to the background of ragtime music. The play has a social message as well as being a really good musical."

"It's certainly one of the more ambitious shows that I've been affiliated with in terms of the difficulty of the music, and the very large number of leading roles," said Kurt Zielenbach, who plays the role of Father. "One thing that's actually quite different is there are a substantial number of parts for African-American cast members. That's a new and good thing for us in terms of the diversity of our theater group."

The Brennemans said they saw the musical on Broadway and decided to stage it in Hilliard. However, unlike last year's performances of "Oliver," "Ragtime" may not be appropriate for young children.

"There is some racially-charged language in it," Robin Brenneman said. "Since that language is crucial to the social justice message of this show, we have chosen to keep it in there. But there are parents that may not want their kids to hear the n-word. And then there is some implied violence. You don't actually see it."

In addition to the usual five weeks of intense rehearsals two hours a day, six days a week there are the challenges of renting period costumes for 75 cast members and how to create or find a Model T Ford that ends up getting damaged by a mob.

Robin Brenneman said the two-and-a-half-hour musical (with intermission) goes by quickly, with plenty of characters moving on and off the stage.

There's another thing she likes about "Ragtime."

"I do a lot of social justice work, so this play brings together two of my life's passions theater and social justice," she said.

"Ragtime" will be staged at 8 p.m. July 8 and 9, and 3 p.m. July 10 in the Performing Arts Center at Hilliard Davidson High School, 5100 Davidson Road. Tickets cost $15, or $12 children, senior citizens or groups of 10 or more. Tickets can be reserved by calling (614) 527-4407, 888-980-ARTS or are available at the door.