BWW Interview: Andrew Wilson, Dance Captain for NEWSIES at The Bushnell in Hartford, October 13 - 18
When NEWSIES takes the stage at the Bushnell on Tuesday, October 13, Hartford audiences will have the rare opportunity to be the first to see six new principals perform in this smash hit musical. This high energy, youthful show relies heavily on its dancing to tell the timeless story of the underdogs standing up for what they believe in. So, I thought it fitting that I was able to chat with Andrew Wilson, NEWSIES Dance Captain and to hear about life on the road, some touching stories of devoted "Fansies" and how it feels "Carrying the Banner" all over the country in this feel good, family friendly production.
BWW: Hi, Andrew! How are you?
I am doing well, thanks!
Andrew, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today. We are really looking forward to NEWSIES in Hartford! I think it is the kick-off to a new leg of the tour, right?
Yeah! Our principals from our first year, their final show is this weekend in Rochester, NY, and then we open with a brand new set of amazing principals on Tuesday in Hartford! So we have a very special week ahead.
For those readers who don't know how that works, essentially it is the same tour, but with a changeout of the principals, correct?
Yes, it's the exact same show. Principals are on a different contract than ensemble members. Ensemble members are kind of on an indefinite contract and principals' contracts are yearly for our show. This new set of principals got the same treatment we did - they rehearsed for two weeks in New York with the original creative team and then they came out to the tour. As the dance captain, I was responsible for taking all the blocking and choreography that they learned in the rehearsal studio and apply it to the stage. This is unique because our stage goes vertical. It is like a 30 foot tall set, with lots of stairs and towers to traverse, and lots of Newsies that probably, to them, look identical because we are all in knickers and hats.
So it kind of falls to you to help get them up to speed on everything?
Very much so, NEWSIES is probably a 75% dance show, so a large chunk of the show falls on the dance department's shoulder - the choreographer, the associate choreographer and the dance captain.
And have you ever been to Hartford, or will this be your first visit here?
Yes! I performed at the Bushnell in 2011 with Cathy Rigby in PETER PAN, so I am so excited to come back! And we actually started our NEWSIES tour nearby - we played five preview performances in Waterbury, Connecticut before we officially opened in Philadelphia last October.
NEWSIES has quite a unique history. Were you familiar with the original movie before the show came about?
Absolutely! I grew up watching the movie in music class every year. I even did a competition dance routine to "Carrying the Banner." It was been a part of my childhood and interestingly, a lot of our younger Newsies had never seen the movie, so we had a viewing party when we were in Toronto this summer. That was great.
And have there been opportunities where old meets new (movie and musical?)
Yes, in fact, we were performing at the Pantages Theatre in Los Angeles and down the street at the El Capitan Theater they has a special showing of the movie, When the credits were rolling, we surprised everyone with a special performance of "King of New York" and "Santa Fe." It was so special. Kenny Ortega, the film's director, and most of the original cast from the film even showed up.
What do you think it is about NEWSIES that people really connect with?
I think that it is one of the rare gems of musicals with young men dancing their emotions out, and not done in any sort of unnatural or surreal way, it is completely evoked through raw physicality. At the heart of it is this absolutely inspiring dance element of masculinity and youth. For myself and almost every Newsie on stage it's the reason why we started taking dance class, or gymnastics, or acting.
And as a performer, what makes it worth it for you?
Every performer will tell you it is hard to do a show eight times a week, especially on tour, and it can be hard to muster up the strength on, say, a Sunday matinee, but the impact makes it worth it. We get a lot of fan mail from our "Fansies" and we hear things like "I took my two boys to see the show and they sleep in their Newsie caps and they are begging to take a dance class." It's so amazing to get to do exactly the thing that inspired us, and ultimately inspire a new generation.
Tell me about the Fansies. Any other interesting stories or interactions with them on the road?
Oh, yeah. Just small things, we get pieces of artwork delivered to us every week from paintings, to knitting, to sketches, to baked goods in the shape of your face, really everything. We also get really touching letters. Just last week in Buffalo, a couple from Pittsburgh who saw every show when we were there, booked a hotel for the weekend, bought tickets for all five weekend shows and on Friday night, we gave them a backstage tour and then posed for a photo. Behind her we held up signs that said will you marry me, and showed her the photo and he got on one knee and proposed.
Tell me about being a swing. You essentially have to be ready to go on at any time, right?
Yes, I cover 17 different roles in the show. It can be maddening at times. NEWSIES is a rare show, usually a swing would never cover more than 8 or 10 parts but since our show is mostly guys, the three newsie swings each cover 17 parts (we also have an oldsie swing and a girlsie swing.) I went on for my 13th part last week, so I have four left up my sleeve!
What do you look forward to the most when you do get to perform?
There is that unexplainable energy that courses through you when you hit a stage with an audience. It is hard not to feel that. One of the things that is nice as a swing is it is almost always fresh. There have been weeks where I have done five different parts in one week. It is an electric feeling and is especially touching with this show, knowing that it inspired me and whatever energy I can give might inspire someone else - that is the best.
So as dance captain, I have to ask about the newspaper choreography in "Seize the Day." How difficult is that number?
The technique of it is different than you'd think, you have to stay completely flat-footed the entire time, almost like you just locked on a pair of skates. So when you slide you have to be flat-footed or else it will slide or get away from you. It's really not that difficult compared to all the acrobatic numbers we do the rest of the show. We all look forward to it. I remember the first time I got to perform the number, it was one of those A-ha moments when I realized that I was getting to perform a legendary piece of choreography,
With a tour, you are constantly on the road from city to city, what is the hardest part about that life?
This is my fourth national tour, and it's these small stresses that you don't realize are happening to you - switching a bed every week, having a different dressing room station, finding new restaurants, new coffee shops. I call these little stresses stress pockets. That little change can go up into your muscles.
I understand that you are also an acrobat. How have you found those skills come into play in your more traditional musical theater roles?
I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years. It really comes into play in NEWSIES, we do backflips in almost every number. It certainly adds an athleticism to my dancing. For me it also helped me learn discipline by training for gymnastics, it humbled me.
So thinking toward the future, do you have a dream role that you would one day like to play?
I have recently done this experiment where I no longer have a preconceived notion of what life should be and I am going to let the universe pick it for me. There are shows that I love and adore, but I know that what is meant to be will be and that will be my next show.
Do you have any advice for young performers looking to make it into professional theatre?
I would say celebrate the individual aspects of yourself. It is very easy to feel out of place, and hard to feel like an individual. Have the confidence to break that mold and be who you are. Don't limit yourself to classic acting, singing and dancing. Go for the thing that you enjoy.
Andrew, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Like I said, it really is a perfect family show you can bring everyone to. I can't stress that enough.
NEWSIES runs at the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, CT October 13 - 18. The Bushnell is located at 166 Capitol Avenue, Hartford, CT. For tickets and information, contact the box office at 860.987.5900 or visit www.bushnell.org
Production photo by Deen van Meer