BWW Interviews: Sayle Finds New Life as Crutchie in NEWSIES

A couple of years after the first phase of his acting career ended, Zachary Sayle feels like he's starting over with the national tour of NEWSIES.

The Disney musical, loosely based on the 1899 newsboys strike in New York City, has a limited engagement in Columbus. The show, which won a Tony for Best Score in 2012, will run Jan. 13-18 at the Ohio Theatre.

"The tour has been going really well so far," says Sayle, 18, who plays the role of Crutchie. "We've been blessed with some really great audiences. They're really having a great time and enjoying the show."

"There aren't that many opportunities for actual teenagers to work in this business. When I found out I got the role, it was very empowering. It was this 'I did this as a child and now I'm doing it as an adult. I can still do this.'"

Based on the 1992 Disney movie of the same name, NEWSIES follows Jack Kelly, who sells newspapers on the streets of New York. When publisher Joseph Pulitzer raises the cost of the New York World to newsboys, Kelly organizes a massive strike to protest. The newsboys strike is quickly met with the resistance by the police and other "strikebreakers."

While it is a fictionalized account, many of the characters including Sayle's Crutchie are based on the real people involved with the 1899 strike.

"(The strike) started the ball rolling for child labor laws," Sayle says. "The strike isn't well documented. Back then the main source of information was the newspapers so it makes sense the newspapers wouldn't want to report on people striking against them.

"NEWSIES takes something that really happened and tells the story very well. It's high energy and so much fun. It's not just a kid's show. There's something for everyone."

Sayle had a lucrative career as a child actor. He created the role of Ralphie Parker in the world premiere of A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL, played Jeremy Potts in the first national tour of CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG and was Kurt Van Trapp in an Asian tour of THE SOUND OF MUSIC. He also had roles in musicals DANI GIRL and LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI as well as on television shows IN THE FAMILY and WHITE COLLAR.

Although his mother Pam was a professional ballet dancer with the New York City Ballet and his father Carter has a degree in vocal music performance, Sayle just fell into show business. His mother owns the Alabama Dance Academy in Birmingham and one of her teachers was choreographing a local production of SCROOGE THE MUSICAL. After being convinced to audition, Sayle ended up getting the part of Tiny Tim.

After that role, Sayle knew what he wanted to do.

"I got bitten by the bug," Sayle said. "I started doing a bunch of regional theatre and eventually I wanted to move on to bigger things."

At 10, Sayle convinced his parents to let him audition for THE SOUND OF MUSIC in New York City. As luck would have it, his father was going to be in New York that weekend for business, so his parents allowed him to try out.

"They told me later they agreed to it because they thought it'd be a good lesson in rejection and getting a taste of what real theater is like," Sayle says.

The plan backfired when he landed the part of Kurt Van Trapp for an Asian tour. Soon after that tour, Sayle was going from show to show, from tour to tour.

Then at age 14, something horrible happened to Sayle. His voice changed.

"When you're a child actor and your voice changes, you kind of hit a dead zone," he says. "Things started to slow down for me."

Sayle struggled to find parts for four years before auditioning for NEWSIES. He has found a renewed sense of energy as Crutchie, a hard-luck orphan who sells newspapers on the street corner to survive.
"Crutchie has been dealt a bad hand. He's homeless, handicapped and an orphan but he's surrounded by the other newsboys who are really supportive of him," Sayle says. "He has such a strong optimistic spirit. He's one of the driving forces of the show."

Mastering Crutchie's limp was one of Sayle's biggest challenges. Sayle says now his left leg and right arm are much stronger than their counterparts after spending a couple of months portraying a character who is paralyzed in his right leg.

Sayle finds it odd that his career started by playing Tiny Tim, who walks with a crutch, and then started the adult portion of his career by playing Crutchie.

"I've kind of come full circle," he says with a laugh.

NEWSIES will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 13-15 and 8 p.m. Jan. 16 and 17 and 6:30 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Ohio Theatre (39 East State Street in downtown Columbus). Additionally, there will be matinees at 2 p.m. Jan. 17 and 1 p.m. Jan. 18.

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From This Author Paul Batterson