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Black Dirt Theater production of ‘Newsies’ a hit, show runs through this week

By Bruce Karnick

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‘Newsies’ is based on the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899. This new Disney musical tells the story of Jack Kelly, a rebellious newsboy, who dreams of a life as an artist away from the big city. After publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer raises newspaper prices at the newsboys’ expense, Kelly and his fellow newsies take action. With help from the beautiful female reporter Katherine Plumber, all of New York City soon recognizes the power of “the little man.” – Broadway.com The story of ‘Newsies’ was brought to life in Hastings thanks to Black Dirt Theater with CoDirectors Robin Starch and James Lane and the hard work of over 70 cast members, plus countless crew members.

See NEWSIES, Page 5

The Finale with the Cast of Newsies! Photo courtesy of Andy Hill Auditions were held May 10 and 14 with over 100 community members taking part. Rehearsals ran weeknights from Jun 13 to July 28, typically from 5 p.m. to 9 or 10 p.m. at the Hastings Middle School.

Originally produced on Broadway by Disney Theatrical Productions, the show was seen by over 1.2 million people when it opened for previews March 15, 2012. The full open hit two weeks later and ran for 1,004 shows until August 24, 2014. The Newsies North American Tour ran for almost two years with 784 performances to over 1.5 million audience members.

With nearly 2.7 million audience members seeing Newsies, you know it is a musical worth viewing. That means, to bring a production like Newsies to Hastings is a big deal, especially to Lane.

“I have been a lover of this story since the film first premiered 30 years ago, the spring before I turned 13,” explained Lane. “Since then, I always dreamed of being a ‘Newsie.’ Sadly, I had aged out of consideration by the time the Broadway version came available. I couldn't have asked for a better outlet to live vicariously through all these talented performers. The realism they bring to the stage and the passion they have for telling this remarkable story fills me with the greatest sense of pride and admiration.”

With the first weekend of production wrapped up and the second weekend on its way, we reached out to Black Dirt Theater’s Board Vice President, Thomas Bonneville to get some cast and crew reactions to the weekend and the show. Bonneville did not disappoint with an amazing response from so many.

When working theater, especially musical theater, there are a lot of challenges. It helps to have an experienced music director like Ryan McCoy.

“I am responsible for teaching all of the music to the cast for the show and I direct the onstage pit during the performances,” said McCoy. “I have directed Newsies once before and so I was excited to have another chance to be involved with this show. The story, music, and dance in this musical is so well conceived and written and I knew how much the audience was going to fall in love with it. I don’t think it’s possible to not lose yourself in it when you hear these iconic songs like, “Seize the Day,” “King of New York,” and “The World Will Know.” I knew this cast was going to be something special as soon as we finished auditions and cast the roles for the show.”

McCoy hit the nail on the head. The audiences have loved the first weekend of performances. Social media was abuzz with nothing but praises for the performances of the cast and crew. There were even pictures of young audience members meeting and being star struck with both the male lead of Jack Kelly who is played by Alex McKenzie and female lead of Katherine Plumber who is played by Abby Covert.

“When the musical was announced several months back, I knew nothing about Newsies at all,” explained McKenzie. “By the day of auditions, though, I had listened to the soundtrack enough to fall in love with it. Compared to my fellow actors, I had much less experience under my belt, particularly with dancing, so I didn't know whether to expect any role in particular. When the cast list was released though, I was overjoyed to see I'd been cast as Jack! Despite not being familiar with the show, I came to find that I related to my character quite a bit; we're both artists who crave a life away from the city, we've both had difficult experiences with employers, and I even used to help my parents deliver newspapers when I was young! I watched the Broadway recording on Disney+ over and over throughout the rehearsal process, taking inspiration from Jeremy Jordan's performance in the role, while also looking for ways to make the character my own. Newsies has been the unforgettable experience that I never knew I wanted, and I can't wait to share our remaining performances with the community and this beautiful cast and crew!”

“My first exposure to the story of Newsies was in middle school, when our choir teacher showed us the 1992 film,” said Covet. “As much as I loved it back then, I appreciate the dynamic changes made to the stage musical powerful new songs like Once and For All and of course, the addition of my character, Katherine Plumber. Katherine is witty, quirky, and hardworking. She comes from a life of privilege, which can make her seem naive at times. But she’s paved her own way and proven herself as a successful woman in a maledominated career field. This has been a dream role of mine for about six years, so diving into this character has been exciting. I’ve especially enjoyed working on my solo number, Watch What Happens. This song is a rollercoaster and a beast, both vocally and emotionally. I’ve made so many new discoveries about Katherine and her journey through rehearsals with the creative team. I think audiences will really resonate with Katherine’s persistence and vulnerability as she navigates new territories and relationships.”

Connor Dean plays Crutchie, one of the costars of the production, “I wanted to do a musical to help me develop confidence in my singing ability and really prove to myself that I was capable. I also just really wanted to get back into a theater show after doing two years of film and commercial, I really missed the stage and the Black Dirt community. I ended up falling in love with the show and more than that, the cast. We had a huge range of ages and personalities that really blended well, and it made for many memorable rehearsals and Applebee’s meet ups. One of my favorite parts of theater is the lead up to opening night, where everything finally comes together, and you can feel the energy in the cast just skyrocket. Second to that is the audience that we have the honor of entertaining. Bringing people, the feelings of excitement, tension, fear, relief, and everything in between is one of my biggest reasons that I love being an actor.”

Part of bringing a play like this together is the need for props. When you are talking about a show that focuses on something so near and dear to our hearts, the newspaper world, of course the production will need newspapers as props. Bonneville is not only acting in Newsies, but he is also marketing the play and working on many of the behindthescenes projects need to keep things going, including the acquisition of newspapers. When word got out about the production, The Journal and Bonneville made a connection regarding utilizing leftover papers for props. The problem is, in 1899, they did not have color print.

“We just took the color pages off and used them as filler inside the practice props and recycled what we did not use,” explained Bonneville during one of the exchanges of the newspapers.

The production is being smart and earth friendly, in fact, only 200 broadsheets were printed extra for the props for the live production, the rest of the papers used were saved up over the course of a few months when new papers were delivered to stores and the old stock replaced. All of which, including the 200 custom prints, were donated to the show by the Hastings Journal. The best part is, four pages fit per broadsheet and Bonneville worked with Journal staff to maximize the options for the final shows and the prop pages are reversible.

As you can imagine, thousands of hours of work have gone into the production of Newsies and this show is worth seeing if you can make it happen.

PERFORMANCE DATES AND LOCATION HASTINGS MIDDLE SCHOOL, 1000 11th Street West July 29, 30 at 7:00 p.m.

July 31 at 2:00 p.m.

August 3, 4 & 5 at 7:00 p.m.

August 6 at 2:00 p.m.

What is next for BDT?

This winter, for the holiday: “ELF the Musical”, An allnew dinner theater experience! (After the newyear), Spring offering: “She Kills Monsters”, More shows from “Black Dirt Improv” and “Black Dirt Radio Theater: Exclusively on KDWA Radio”, and their 2023 Summer Musical: “The Music Man.”

Jack leads the Newsies in “The World Will Know!” the rallying song of the Newsies as they prepare to strike and take on Pulitzer and Hearst. Photo courtesy of Andy Hill

The two leads of Newsies, reporter Katherine Plumber (Abby Covert) and Newsie Jack Kelly (Alex McKenzie) get to know each other a little better earlier in the story. Photo courtesy of Andy Hill

August 3, 2022