by Megan Buchbinder, Marketing Director of Springfield Little Theatre
What do you do after you work an 8-10 hour day? While most of us go home, cook dinner, maybe run the kids to a practice or two, there are 60+ people in our community, some full-time professionals, some full-time students, who are headed to a 4-5 hour intense dance and vocal rehearsal at The Landers Theatre. When most of our energy is drained and our minds are spent, these people stay sharp, learning and perfecting challenging choreography and memorizing lines. All for what?
Ok, while that was a lame attempt of making a Newsies connection, it isn’t incorrect. The Springfield Little Theatre, our very own nationally-recognized community theatre, is opening their 84th season with Disney’s Newsies and in true SLT fasion, the standards are high and expectations are higher…as they should be. Springfield Little Theatre is known for producing the highest quality live theatre that rivals any larger metropolitan city and Disney’s Newsies is no exception. Actually, it may be the new rule.
For those not familiar with the Disney film turned Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, take a moment to read this down and dirty synopsis:
Jack Kelly is the leader of the newsboys in 1899 New York City. They are a poor group of boys, many of them parentless and homeless and they sell “papes” to feed themselves. They work for Pulitzer who owns the largest newspaper in NYC and when he decides to raise the prices on the newsies, this gang of kids rally together to form a union and strike. With high-energy dance breaks, powerful rally-cry musical numbers and a “never give up on what’s right” message, Newsies is the perfect night out that you can even bring the kids to.
So who are the Newsies? Being a community theatre, SLT casts a completely volunteer group of individuals who all have “day jobs” for lack of a better term. That’s right. You could see your dentist on that stage. Or maybe your realtor. Or teacher. Or classmate. This particularly talented cast ranges from ages 9 to 50+ and watching them transform into newsies the last two months has been nothing short of incredible. Everything from the lighting and costumes to their New Yorker accents and killer group dance numbers will blow you away.
So let’s get a little more acquainted with these Newsies! We’ve chatted with a few of the cast about their experience in this show and what they are looking forward to the most when they perform in front of an audience for the first time!
Disney’s Newsies brings to life some of the most heartfelt and loved characters to have ever graced the stage. Jack Kelly, the leader of the Newsies, has a tough guy exterior and a reputation that matches. But the audience gets to see another side to Jack—the sensitive artist with a heart that will do just about anything for his chosen family.
“Over the past 11 years I have played every variation of a newsboy, delivery boy, or “street urchin”,” says Martin. “Actually, my first paid gig took me all the way to Valley Fair Amusement Park to be in a “Newsies Boy Band” called the Accafellas….not kidding. I have been dreaming of doing this show and saw it on Broadway during my very first trip to New York.” When asked about what it’s like to play one of the most coveted leading man roles on Broadway, Martin said, “Jack Kelly was a bucket list role for me and is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. The vocal demands are a beast, but I love every minute of it. The song “Santa Fe” has so much passion behind it, and hits home for me reflecting on some of my own life’s challenges. Jack is tough, but he has a huge heart and a very strong spirit. It’s a privilege to get to be in his skin every night.”
Jack’s best friend is Crutchie, who, aptly named, walks with a crutch and has a “smile that spreads like buttah”. He is everyone’s best friend…sensitive, kind and loyal. Tanner Johnson, making is his return to the Landers’ stage after starring as Tony in West Side Story last year, talks about how much fun it is to play Crutchie. “He epitomizes hope and kindness, which are values that are so fun to portray on stage, especially when you’re working with such an amazing cast,” says Johnson. “Doing a show with SLT is always great. The family atmosphere that’s created every time you walk into the Landers is something you can’t duplicate anywhere else!”
As much attention that Jack gets for being the “face” of the strike, the real brain power comes from Davey, the new kid who, along with his little brother, pick up the Newsies gig while their dad is out of work to make a little extra money for their family. Davey educates his fellow Newsies on what they need to do to form a Union and ultimately ends up being the driving force of the strike when everyone else gets disheartened and after talking to Hayden Elshaw about his role, we could see the parallels between him and Davey. “The sense of family and community in this show is unbelievable. Going to rehearsals each night is a blast because we all put in a lot of work but also have fun together,” says Elshaw. “However, with that being said, Newsies comes with a lot of challenges as well. Vocally, this is probably the most difficult show to sing, at least for me. It’s a very high show for guys and so that can be exhausting at times. The constant movement and choreography are also some of the biggest challenges of Newsies but is also what makes it such a special show.”
When you think of the Newsies, you tend to think of all the boys out there selling “papes” and standing together to make a change. But what about the women? Enter Katherine, the high-class journalist that sees the mistreatment of these boys and risks everything to make sure they’re heard. Playing a strong female character in a cast filled with men is a challenge that Darby Vincent was more than excited to take on. “Playing Katherine has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life,” says Vincent. “Her story is so important, especially now when there are still things like the wage gap, and the lack of representation of women experience in the media. I feel honored to tell a story that can inspire so many people to believe in themselves, no matter what odds are stacked against them.”
We mentioned before, these Newsies log a lot of rehearsal time. They will log AT LEAST 400 hours of rehearsal time before opening night. This show is not easy to stage. Director, Beth Domann, credits this “freaky talented” family of a cast as the reason SLT is able to do this show. Each actor is so committed to pushing themselves, uncovering new layers to their talents and abilities with each rehearsal. Not only that, there is a lot of talent behind the scenes prepping the cast and crew for transforming The Landers Theatre into 1899 New York City. “Lonnie Hall is our Dramaturg and she has done a great job researching this era so the cast can have her at their disposal as they’re working on character development,” says Domann. “Susan Gravatt, our Musical Director, has done a fantastic job getting everyone vocally ready to do challenging choreography and sing at the same time. No easy feat.”
When it comes to the talent in this community, we’ve heard on more than one occasion that there is just something in the water in Springfield. Somehow, in this big little city in the Midwest there is an abundance of talent ready to be showcased and Springfield Little Theatre prides itself on not only being an artistic outlet for that talent, but fostering it through workshops, classes, institutes and more through the Education Department.
To learn more about Springfield Little Theatre and to get tickets to see Newsies, September 14 through October 7th, visit www.SpringfieldLittleTheatre.org.