Jermaine Carroll considers himself to be a more introverted and reserved person — that is until he hits the theater stage.
The Elmont Memorial High School graduate said he normally doesn’t like to “take too much space,” but when the spotlight hits, he said he feels free to act larger than life.
“That’s when I take the liberty of taking up as much space as I can,” Carroll said. “And interestingly enough, I don’t get worried too much about how people are looking at me and how I’m being perceived because even though it’s me, it’s not me.”
Carroll is currently starring as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in “Ragtime” the musical at the Cultural Arts Playhouse at 170 Michael Drive in Syosset. Based on the 1975 novel by E.L. Doctorow, the story follows the American experience of three groups during the early 20th century : African Americans in Harlem, an upper-class white family living in surburban New Rochelle and Eastern European immigrants.
Over the course of the show, the worlds of a wealthy white family, a Jewish immigrant and his daughter and an African American ragtime musician collide. Carroll’s character Coalhouse is a popular ragtime pianist who attempts to win back his true love, Sarah, and forge a prosperous new life for their newborn son. He is a man of principle and persistence, which ends up being his fatal flaw. The audience follows his journey for justice while he navigates the obstacles of discrimination and racism.
“He is prideful, but prideful in a different way than I am and I kind of had to find how to play that naturally,” Carroll said. “He makes choices that I personally would not make, but at the end of the day, I have to find a way to make his decisions make sense — it’s so eye-opening and inspiring.”
This is not Carroll’s first rodeo when it comes to musical theater. He said he first got bit by the performing bug in church, where he participated in Christmas plays and other shows.
Before he attended Elmont Memorial High School, he recalled going to see a performance of the musical “Guys and Dolls” and immediately felt inspired. When he got to the high school, he had a role in practically every theater production, he said.
He went on to attend Temple University and graduated in 2019 with a theater degree.
Today, Carroll’s day job is as a marketing assistant for Richner Communications, but performing still plays a major role in his life. After graduating from college, he joined a couple of local theater groups before hearing about the Cultural Arts Playhouse in Syosset.
He auditioned for the company’s musical production of “Parade” and has been involved in several other Playhouse shows ever since.
The young actor and singer credits a few mentors who have supported him along the way, including his former music teacher Eileen Kramer, Ed Kennedy and Deborah ‘Mama’ Cleveland, who was in the original “Dreamgirls” on Broadway.
Cleveland’s son went to Elmont Memorial High School and she would often help the students with their productions, Carroll said.
“If it wasn’t for those three specifically, I don’t think that I would be doing this and I don’t think that I would have even grown to the level that I’m at now,” Carroll said.
“Ragtime” the musical is playing at Syosset’s Cultural Arts Playhouse until Sunday, April 2. To see the full schedule or to purchase a ticket, visit https://www.culturalartsplayhouse.com/.