BWW Previews: NEWSIES to Seize the Day at Theatre Baton Rouge
It's time to "seize the day" with the Newsies who are dancing into Theatre Baton Rouge this June.
Based on the historical events of the newsboys' strike of 1899, NEWSIES was adapted for the stage from the popular Disney film adaptation, which gained a cult following. Over the next 20 years, NEWSIES grew in popularity that it landed a two-year run on Broadway followed by a national tour.
NEWSIES features a book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and music by legendary composer Alan Menken. So, get ready for a show with a rousing score, rollicking choreography, and an inspiring underdog story with boys leaping through the air with stacks of newspapers.
Set in New York City during the turn of the century, NEWSIES captures the spirit of the American dream by following a group of penniless teens who work as newspaper delivery boys. When Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, price gouges his newspapers to the boys, they decide to organize and form a strike. With the help of journalist Katherine Plumber, who uses the power of print to draw attention to the Newsies' fight, the boys launch a movement that shows New York that everyone - even those considered to be the bottom of society - deserves a fair shot.
"The show is great, it's so inspirational, and it's what we need right now," said Jenny Ballard, the show's director. "It's what I think the world needs right now...a story about a group of underdogs who are committed to what they do and who are unafraid to stand up and say 'No, we are not okay with these conditions and we refuse to be treated this way.' It's so important."
Set in the era of the birth of labor unions and workers' rights, NEWSIES has an important message of fighting for what's right.
"Katherine has this great line where she says, 'Nothing happens if you just give in,' and I think there are so many beautiful, relevant minds in this show that speak to me on a daily basis," Ballard said. "I think it has a good message after good message after good message."
Austin Ventura will lead the cast of 40+ actors as Jack Kelly with Albert Nolan as Joseph Pulitzer, Rebecca Smith as Katherine, Brandy Johnson as Medda Larkin, Grayson Barraco as Davey, Thomas Luke as Crutchie, and Joey Roth as Les.
"I really think we have the best of the best," Ballard said.
One of the essential changes to the stage show is the addition of Katherine, a character who was originally a man in the film while also absorbing the role of Jack's girlfriend, Sarah, from the film.
"I think it's huge that they basically combined these two roles and gave a woman so much power in the early 1900s," Ballard said. "She's the person who gives them a platform. They have the words they need to say; she gives them the voice they need to have."
As an investigative reporter, Katherine entered a career that was barely open for women. She uses her writing talents to shed light on the Newsies cause, helping them to achieve their goals while also breaking a Victorian societal mold at the same time.
"There are references throughout the entire script about 'a female reporter, can she do that?'" Ballard said. "The character of Katherine was actually named for Pulitzer's infant daughter who died as a child, which I think is really interesting that they even pulled historical references to come up with her name."
NEWSIES is a show that does not come without challenges. Due to the show's heavy dance nature, where each Newsie is consistently performing high-energy, gymnastics-esque tricks, such as flips, leaps, and tumbles, Ballard said it was a "rigorous audition process" to cast the best of the best. For auditions, there was a four-hour dance call, a full day of singing auditions, and extensive callbacks.
"Dylon really took them through the drills of choreography to see who could do basic things, who could really do really advance things, what kind of levels he was working with," Ballard said. "It was kind of a perfect storm of a group of really great triple threat folks."
For Ballard, the heart of the show centers on Jack's journey, and how his story sends a message of why it's essential to encourage kids to have a voice and not be afraid to use it.
"A show like this does that," Ballard said. "For me, this is what theatre is about. To put on a show that yes is entertaining, and it is fun for audiences to watch, but also to say 'Yes, it is time to seize the day,' and hopefully, they will leave our theatre and do just that."
NEWSIES opens at TBR on Friday, June 14th and runs through June 30th. To purchase tickets, visit theatrebr.org.