BWW Interview: 6 Questions & a Plug with NEWSIES' Aleks Knezevich
Read all about it! Get yer NEWSIES latest headliner news with lead Aleks Knezevich, who plays paperboy with a heart of gold Jack, the unofficial (but official) leader of the NYC newsboys in this Disney musical on Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' main stage. Knezevich tells all in this 6 Questions & a Plug!
For the few people who don't know NEWSIES, can you describe your character, Jack, and the story from your perspective? And what makes this your "dream role"? (see bio below)
Jack is an orphan, having had lost both of his parents at a young age. He has had to fend for himself for a very long time, and as a result has become very resourceful. It is also unspoken, common knowledge that Jack is the unanimously appointed leader of the Newsies. Being one of the oldest, most experienced, and biggest newsies, he takes it upon himself to look after the other boys, especially Crutchie, who has recently begun suffering from Polio. Jack is rough around the edges - worn for a boy his age, but his seriousness is balanced by his love of mischief and chasing girls.
What makes this my dream role is that this show has so much heart and meaning. It is a story about the underdog, and Jack drives the whole thing. And if you think about it (kids fighting for their rights) then it has a real connection to events in our world today, which makes it even more powerful. Also, the music is awesome, the dancing is challenging, and the book is pretty darn great. I also love tackling accent work in shows, so it's blast! I love exploring the cadence and rhythm of language.
You've been performing in NEWSIES for several months now - how is it keeping up the energy for this high-energy show for a long run? How do you stay healthy, rested and stay uninjured?
I am not going to lie. It is tough and I continue to learn new ways to sustain as my body changes over the years. We do physical work in this business and I work two other jobs beside, by choice, because I am a workaholic. Most people don't really get it unless they are in the business, but eight shows per week for eight months is hard on the body. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. To do this kind of work well, one has to get sleep, water, good nutrition, stretch, limit physical activity outside of the show, and pay attention to how the body feels. I always vocally warm up beforehand, hydrate, and stretch. And on the tough days, lots and lots of coffee!
Then there's the question of how to keep it fresh over eight months. I love that challenge because it forces me to find new connections to other characters and pieces of story line to keep myself focused. I also approach it from the standpoint that each audience is seeing the show for the first time so in a way every night becomes opening night. And I learned a really great lesson from my JEKYLL AND HYDE director Paul Stancato. He told our cast to never try to recreate last night's emotion and performance, but to use what you are feeling that particular day to drive your performance. That has been one of the most freeing pieces of advice and has allowed me to explore different choices in each show, which also helps to keep everything fresh!
Do you do eight shows a week when you're performing a show like this at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres? Do you have an understudy?
I do all eight shows, yes. And I do have an understudy. All sorts of things can stop a person from doing show, so understudies are our insurance policies. We have 500 people plus at every show, so the show must go on! And my understudy, Andy Hey, is awesome. It's freeing to have someone you can count on when you are not feeling well.
Jack is on stage a lot - of all the songs you dance and sing, what are your favorite and most challenging numbers?
I love every piece of this show. I love "Seize the Day" because it has so much heart and it is so iconic. It's challenging dance wise, but I love the challenge! And, of course, there is "Santa Fe" every day, sometime twice. I always wake up and sort of do a check in with my voice. Is it there? Yup. Ok great! It's a vocal challenge but I love a good challenge!
You've starred in many well-known and loved shows at the Chan and elsewhere. How did you get your start in theatre? Where did you train?
Yes, I consider myself very fortunate. I have played Gaston, Lancelot, Danny Zuko, and now Jack Kelly. I started the whole musical theater journey in my senior year at Woodbury High School, did one show in college, got my Biochemistry B.S. from the University of Minnesota, did some theater for a few years while applying to medical school, went to medical school for a year, then booked the JEKYLL AND HYDE National Tour and I never looked back. The rest is history. So like Jack Kelly, I kind of got my theater education on the streets (well... on the stage, anyway).
Now that you've played your dream role, what is the next dream role you hope to have the opportunity to take on, and do you plan to keep performing here in the Twin Cities or do you want to tour more or go back to NYC?
Jekyll/ Hyde was my first dream role. Now this, and next I would love to play Phantom in Weber's version (as if that will EVER get released), Jean Valjean, and one of the boys in Jersey Boys. As long as I keep getting work here in Minnesota, I like having the space, a car, and being close to family. It's a great quality of life.
When Jack sells his last "pape," what will you do next (on stage or off)?
I get to continue my stay here at the Chanhassen Dinner Theatres as we roll right into the next production, which will be Irving Berlin's HOLIDAY INN. I am in the ensemble and am excited to witness my wife, Jessica Fredrickson, in the spotlight as she plays the role of Lila Dixon.
Catch NEWSIES on Chanhassen's main stage through Sept. 29, 2018. For tickets and information, visit https://www.chanhassendt.com/Online/default.asp.
Aleks Knezevich(Jack Kelly) is excited to be back at CDT in this dream role. Past CDT credits include Grease, Camelot, Disney's Beauty and the Beast, and Disney's The Little Mermaid. Other credits include H.M.S. Pinafore at the Guthrie Theater and PBS National Broadcast; title role in Jekyll and Hyde National Tour; The Light in the Piazza with Theater Latté Da and BCT (Artistry) and other performances in NY and MN.
Photo: Aleks Knezevich (front/center) with cast of NEWSIES. Courtesy of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.