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Island arts: Musical actor Jonathan Spencer

Submitted by on 1, July 16, 2009 – 9:00 amNo Comment
Olivia Stoddard, Tee Lew and Jonathan Spencer in the cast of "Ragtime."

Olivia Stoddard, Tee Lew and Jonathan Spencer in the cast of "Ragtime."

Alameda’s own Jonathan Spencer has been doing opera and musical theater for more than two decades around the Bay Area, but his current stretch in the Alameda Civic Light Opera production of “Ragtime” is his first gig here on the Island.

Ragtime is one of my favorite musicals, and I’ve been wanting to play this role for years,” Spencer told me during an interview this week. The role in question is Father, half of an upper-crust, white couple whose lives intersect with an African American ragtime musician and an immigrant family in a story about changing times at the turn of the 20th century.

Spencer has been working with The Lamplighters Music Theater group in San Francisco since 1990, performing in a variety of roles and earning a seat on the company’s board. He also works with the Willows Theatre Company in Martinez and Concord.

“Ragtime” is based on a novel by E.L. Doctorow (and it’s rated PG, so keep the little ones at home). Performances are on Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through July 26 (with a special show at 8 p.m. Friday, July 24) at Kofman Auditorium. Tickets are $34, $30 for youths and seniors, and are available online.

Meanwhile, here’s a little more on Spencer.

VOICE: Baritone tenor, but he’s “exploring some tenor stuff,” and singing backup for tenor parts in “Ragtime.”

CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: Spencer has performed in numerous productions for the Lamplighters, including “The Mikado,” and also in a number of shows for the Willows Theatre Group, for whom he debuted a role in “Mountain Days,” an original musical about John Muir. This past year, he also had the opportunity to perform at the famous Bracebridge Dinner, a Christmas tradition at Yosemite’s posh Ahwahnee Hotel.

DREAM ROLE?: “To be honest with you, Father from “Ragtime” was on that list,” Spencer said. He’d also like to play John Adams in “1776,” and he’d like to take a crack at Shakespeare.

TRAINING: “I was a natural singer for a very long time. I’ve been blessed by good genetics,” Spencer said. He says he had a good elementary school teacher and on-the-job training at Lamplighters and that he only began seeing voice instructors in his late 30s.

YOU’VE LIVED IN ALAMEDA SINCE … : Spencer, a Sausalito native, moved to Alameda in 2002 to live with his wife, Vicki.

FAVORITE ALAMEDA PLACES: “I’m in love with Alameda,” Spencer said, adding that he likes our combination of tree-lined streets and small businesses. His favorites include Urban Forest (“a terrific place for new age items and cards”) and Books Inc., both on Park Street. Foodwise, he likes Speisekammer, Amarin Thai and Alameda Pizza (they’re on Webster).

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THIS SHOW?: “It’s such a complex and wonderful show. Ragtime has the amazing quality of having been translated really well from a novel,” Spencer said. “And my fellow performers are terrific.”

AND YOUR CHARACTER?: “The character I’m playing is not necessarily easy to (make) sympathetic. He’s a stationary character in a time of change,” he said. “What I love about the book is you can play it any way you want.”

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