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Rising to the Challenge

At 12, actor from Northridge is eager to meet the grueling demands of 'Ragtime.'

June 12, 1997|KARIMA A. HAYNES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Blake McIver Ewing is among the hardest working kids in show business.

With stage, screen and television roles to his credit, the 12-year-old Northridge resident's resume rivals that of his more seasoned peers.

The multitalented sixth-grader has appeared in "Full House," "The Nanny," "Home Improvement" and the film, "The Little Rascals," among other productions. He was named 1992 "Star Search" junior vocalist champion at age 6.

Blake continued to add to his theatrical experience when he stepped to center stage last Sunday in the role of a little boy in the Los Angeles premiere of the musical, "Ragtime," based on the best-selling novel by E.L. Doctorow.

"It's great to be doing this show and to have such a wonderful director and creative team," Blake said in an interview before a recent rehearsal at the Shubert Theatre in Century City. "They are all amazing people and really talented."

Amazing, too, is Blake's ability to carry successfully the adult-sized responsibility of a significant role in a multimillion-dollar stage production on kid-sized shoulders.

Since previews of the show began in late May, Blake has traded his care-free days as a student at Hillcrest Christian School in Granada Hills for tutors and an opportunity to learn firsthand about historical figures such as Henry Ford, Harry Houdini and Booker T. Washington, brought to life by actors in the play.

The evenings that Blake used to spend hanging out with friends or working on his home computer are now spent rehearsing songs, honing his lines and remembering a barrage of changes in stage direction as the creative team constantly tinkers with the show.

Perhaps the biggest challenge, Blake said, is adopting the actor's lifestyle of sleeping by day and working by night.

"The other night when we got home from the theater, my mom said, 'Blake Ewing, I want you in bed by no later than 12:30.' And I said, 'Mom, do you know how weird that sounds?' "

Although there are moments of levity in his grueling schedule, Blake said he is quite serious about his responsibility to the show. He strives to give his all in each of the eight shows he performs weekly.

"This is a big show in which a child is doing an adult's job," said Susie Ewing, Blake's mother. "The rule in our house is, if he wants to do this, he must be professional or we won't allow him to continue."

Susie Ewing is a former actress and dancer, and her husband, Bill Ewing, is senior vice president of production at Columbia Tri-Star.

To be at his best, Blake has had to spend the hours prior to curtain time warming up his voice with songs from the show, getting into a sailor suit costume--one of eight costumes he wears in the production--and strapping himself into a body harness that holds his wireless microphone.

Before each performance, the tension backstage builds as the announcer calls half-hour, then 15 minutes and then five minutes to showtime. Finally, the announcer calls places. Blake walks from his dressing room at stage right and stands behind a black backdrop.

In the seconds before going on, Blake said, "I concentrate. I focus. I pray."

And as the announcer introduces the show, Blake steps through a scenery door and is onstage, in character and totally in the moment.

When the three-hour show ends at 11:30 p.m., Blake doesn't hang out until the wee hours of the morning with the cast and crew. Instead, he jumps into his mother's car for the ride along darkened freeways back to Northridge. Once home, he eats a late-night snack and crashes until mid-morning.

The hard work and long hours, however, have their rewards, Blake said. "The audience is there every night, and hearing their reactions and the applause is really great."

BE THERE

"Ragtime" opens Sun. at 5:30 p.m. at the Shubert Theatre, 2020 Avenue of the Stars, Century City. Regular schedule: Tue.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 7:30 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. Dark July 4. Ends Sept. 7. $35-$75. (800) 447-7400.

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