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Interview: Michael Ahokma-Lindsay on Playing Jack Kelly in NEWSIES and How it May be THE OPRAH SHOW in Disguise

"I've had to learn to really trust my instincts and really allow those instincts to move me."

Interview: Michael Ahokma-Lindsay on Playing Jack Kelly in NEWSIES and How it May be THE OPRAH SHOW in Disguise
Photo Credit: Seamus Ryan

Extra! Extra! UK Newsies fans, rejoice! The hit musical, produced by Runaway Entertainment, will be making its UK premiere at the Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre in London on 29 November. But unlike previous productions, this one is being branded as "an innovative and brand new exciting production" in which "theatregoers will be thrust right inside the action."

BroadwayWorld had the chance to speak with Michael Ahokma-Lindsay, who is playing Jack Kelly, the leader of the strike in the show. We talked about the true story behind the musical, the immersive aspects of this production, and how Newsies may be the Oprah show in disguise!


What's it like to have been cast as Jack Kelly in Newsies?

When my agent called me, I was actually walking to work to go do a show, Legally Blonde at the Park [Regent's Park Open Air Theatre]. And I didn't really believe it at first! You know when you have a moment where the information's been given to you, you're just drawing blanks? And then it was just this level of joy. I was so excited to play this role and offer my voice. It's such a great character in the sense that it offers an actor an opportunity to really delve into various shades of a person because, throughout the show, Jack shows so many different shades of himself. And this character gets to interact with almost everyone on the stage, so you get the opportunity to cultivate different relationships with various different characters as well. It's something that, as an actor, I was really excited to do. And, of course, Alan Menken has written an incredible score, an incredibly challenging score as well! [Laughs] It's difficult! So I was excited for the challenge as well. Very exciting.

Had you seen the movie and/or the show before auditioning?

I had never seen the show before. Actually, I haven't watched the full show! The first I heard of the show was people singing the music at drama school or showcases. Then I watched the film with Christian Bale. But when I was cast as Jack Kelly, I felt a kind of resistance to watching the whole Broadway version. So I've seen clips - I've watched a little bit here and there. If I wanted to draw something from it or learn something from it then I watched it, but I tried not to watch it in one sitting because you want to create something fresh and new, and not necessarily be just following exactly how they did it.

Interview: Michael Ahokma-Lindsay on Playing Jack Kelly in NEWSIES and How it May be THE OPRAH SHOW in Disguise
Haydn Court & Michael Ahomka-Lindsay
in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

What has the rehearsal process been like?

It has been very full-on, very committed, and really fun as well! The way the creative team decided to work on this is to take some time to really look into the story because this is a historical thing, something that's happened. It's a true story. So we took time to delve into, "What is this about, contextually? Who are these people?"

So we started that way, which was intense for various reasons because the truth of what we're talking about is really harrowing. It was child labour - no other way to put it. They were having to go through hardships that young people today don't have to go through. But it was useful, so I'm really happy we did it. And then we went straight into getting those big numbers in! The idea was to begin to get it because the show is so physical in every way, especially because they're young people - There's a certain level of youthful energy they have. And so it was just getting the show into our bodies so that we're not feeling like it's week five and we need to suddenly learn big things that feel daunting.

So we started off really getting in "Seize the Day," "Carrying the Banner," "The World Will Know," things like that, just starting with that work, and then consolidating what we were doing character-wise. How can we do this as a performance whilst also trying to stay true to what the subject matter is? And I have spent every single day of rehearsals blown away because of the level of talent that I'm surrounded by right now . . . Wow!

What do you think Newsies can bring to a UK audience?

The truth of it is that I feel that this story is so applicable to current times, to what we go through today. And that's the beauty of it being a true story! This genuinely happened. These kids ranged between the ages of eight and fifteen. In the show, Jack is seventeen, but I'm pretty sure that the leaders at the time were around fifteen, sixteen. These were kids who were taking on these huge media moguls and saying, "We're not going to take what you're saying we have to take," which is a huge thing to do! And to organise and to win - they got what they wanted. There's definitely a lesson in that and in the power of unity, and in the power of having a voice. I think that's something that we can apply to anyone, anywhere. And it's a show that, especially in this theatre, everything is so purpose-built. And so I genuinely feel like they wouldn't have seen anything like this show before in this country.

Promotions have said that audiences will be "thrust into the action of Newsies." Can you give us some hints about the staging?

It's a hilarious pun that they've made because the show is in thrust - it's in three perspectives. We've got our back wall, but aside from that, newsies are able to run around the audience. Certain things might come from behind you, above you, next to you, under you . . . [Laughs]

It's actually The Oprah Show in disguise! [Laughs] It's actually so immersive in that sense. On every side, you feel like the actor's set is around you and you're within it, as opposed to watching it over there [on stage]. And the set in general . . . it's breathtaking. It's so detailed, it's so expansive . . . honestly, when we walk in, it feels like you're walking into New York City in 1899. I think with this set combined with the staging, in terms of where people are coming from, it's fair to say that audiences should expect to feel surrounded by this show.

Interview: Michael Ahokma-Lindsay on Playing Jack Kelly in NEWSIES and How it May be THE OPRAH SHOW in Disguise
Michael Ahomka-Lindsay & Bronte Barbe
in rehearsal
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

What have you learned about yourself as an actor while preparing for this role?

Firstly, Jack's a young guy. He's a teenager who's impulsive and makes certain decisions about things - he doesn't necessarily sit down and write for and against all the permutations of what's going to happen here. I've had to learn to really trust my instincts and really allow those instincts to move me.

As actors, we want to make sure we know exactly how we're doing everything, and that's still important, but there is also an element of making sure that you can allow yourself to be taking in what's going on around you, and then making a decision based on what you know. The prep work is really important so you can be equipped to do that. And I think that, in itself, allows you to learn more about the value of your voice and what you bring to something. I think that's a beautiful lesson and I'm very grateful for it. To be honest, that was something that I experienced during the auditions.

When I was first reading the material, I was listening to an interview with Chadwick Boseman, and he was talking about how when he read a script, if he started thinking about the character the next day, or the character influenced the way he first read it, then it meant something, and I really felt that. So the value of that voice is definitely something I'm learning. Definitely, definitely learning the limits of my vocal and physical abilities. [Laughs]

We're pushing the boundaries every day. Every day, I look at something and think, "Can I do that?" And then we do it and we make it happen! There are so many people supporting all of us constantly. And every day, the show is more and more achievable. What else . . . I think the value of having support is really really important as an actor. The support of your crew, your cast, and all the people in your life - your physical therapist, your vocal coach, your this, your that . . . just gathering a team. No person is an island. Everyone has got people around them. I really appreciate everyone that supported me.

Newsies is at London's Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre from November 29



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