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Monday November 27, 2000

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Coming to America

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By Maggie Burnett

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Broadway musical "Ragtime" opens tomorrow night at

The Broadway musical "Ragtime" may have been intended for the enjoyment of audiences everywhere, but it was seemingly tailor-made for actor Jim Corti.

Corti plays the character of Tateh, a widowed Jewish father emigrating from Europe to America in search of a better life for he and his daughter - a story that mirrors Corti's own ancestors' arrival in America.

"I'd remembered stories from my grandma," he said. "It's my love of her that helped me understand what it was like to come over (to America)."

Like Tateh, Corti said his grandmother emigrated from Europe during a time of great poverty. He added that her father, Corti's great-grandfather, first came to America in search of work. Only after securing a job did he then arrange for his daughter to make the move.

"It's so cinematic to me how she described running to (her father) and hugging him and squeezing her arms around his neck," he said about his grandmother's arrival.

"Getting that kind of personal story clued me into how I wanted to portray Tateh. The love of his daughter motivates him to come up with the key to success and the American dream," Corti said. "It's not handed to him. It's something that's within him."

Corti said his grandmother would do anything to get to this country and leave her impoverished roots behind her, including marrying an American man she had never met simply to stay in the states.

"I discovered that was the biggest and most important thing about (my) immigrant grandparents was their fierce determination - that they knew they deserved better," he said. "I wanted to invest that into Tateh. It's hard to express. It's very intangible."

Tateh's story is just one of the immigrant narratives of "Ragtime," which follows the lives of three different families at the turn of the 19th century in America

"It's a drama of the heart. It is about the struggles dealing with our heart and our sensibilities," he said. "That is the most enlightening thing I've found."

Corti's immigrant past is not the only aspect of his personal background that has seemingly groomed him for this role. Corti grew up in a household with a vast music collection, and he especially had a love for movie musicals produced in the 1950s.

"I was a mix of a shy kid but one of those kids who would sing and dance around the house," he said.

In college, Corti said he was initially interested in English but eventually switched his major to theater.

"Delving into characters of great world drama, taking these huge characters and interpreting them through me - I knew I could do it and was good at it," he said.

Although he said he has possessed a natural singing voice his entire life, playing the role of Tateh required him to expand his vocal range and develop stronger singing techniques

"It's an ongoing thing. The more you learn, the more you realize you have yet to find out," he said. "I'm glad I got this role to be able to find out about these things."

In addition to the role of Tateh, Corti has also appeared as Harry Houdini in the original Broadway production of "Ragtime." Other lead roles of Corti's include Louie in "Lost in Yonkers" and Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," as well as roles in national tours such as "Cabaret" and Bob Fosse's "Dancin'."

Despite this extensive resume, Corti said he especially enjoys playing the character of Tateh.

"Tateh is the best role I've had yet. This is a nice thing to be experiencing in my career," he said. "These works are the height of what my field is about."