What’s not to love about a story that has romance, action, comedy, and a triumphant underdog? The Menomonie Theater Guild’s upcoming production of the musical, “Newsies”, has all of this and more.
Not only will audiences get to see a great show, but “Newsies” will also provide a bit of a history lesson. The musical, which is based on the 1992 Disney movie and subsequent Tony award winning Broadway play, chronicles the newsboy strike of 1899, where over a two week period of time, newsboys stopped selling papers owned by tycoon publishers, such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, to protest the hike in prices they were being made to pay for the “papes” they hawked for income. The newsboys wanted to be valued as legitimate members of the newspaper business. Arguably, there are many topics depicted in this show that are still relevant today, such as social status and barriers, labor unions, fair wages, and workers’ rights.
MTG’s “Newsies” is being directed by Katie Shay, who also happens to serve as MTG president. This will be the seventh show Shay has directed, and she is excited to bring this production to life, on the Mabel Tainter stage. After seeing a production of “Newsies”, Katie noted that, “I immediately fell in love with, not only the story of “Newsies”, but also the energetic dancing and music, and despite the complexity of the professional production, I knew our talented community could do it too.”
Adding to the challenge of the production’s music and dance choreography is the sheer number of performers in “Newsies.” A cast of 50 area actors sing, dance, leap, and flip across the stage, and the majority of these actors are school-aged children. Director Shay heaps high praise on Rita Black, who is the choreographer for the production. “Newsies” is Black’s sixth MTG show for which she has served as choreographer, and while the musical has its challenges, such as how the show breaks between scenes and dancing, which takes significant collaboration for the musical numbers, Black declares how rewarding it is to watch the vision in her head come to life. Also, don’t let the ages of the performers fool you. Despite the complexity of the choreography and music, this group of young people possess great talent, evident in popular numbers such as “Seize the Day”, “Carrying the Banner”, and “King of New York.” According to Ms. Black, “Working with the kids has been a delight. They have caught on quickly and have been willing to try all my dance moves.”
In fact, in a story about young people commanding a revolution that created lasting change, it seems fitting that children lead the cast in depicting how a younger generation organized, found their collective voice, and demanded that that they were heard by those in power.
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Tehya Johnson, who plays Spot Conlon, leader of the Brooklyn Newsies, in the MTG production, recognizes the correlation between young people today and those in 1899, who are depicted in the play. “I think that young people recognize that if there is an injustice going on, we have a responsibility to stand up and fight for change. Kids are successfully doing that today, and the Newsies successfully did that over 100 years ago.”
However, back in 1899, these children were primarily orphaned and runaway newsboys. In the musical version of the story, this motley band of youth is led by the charismatic Jack Kelly, played by MTG newcomer Stone Weidner. Stone is a recent transplant to Menomonie, by way of Afton, Minn. He has been involved in musical theater for six years, but “Newsies” is Weidner’s first play with MTG. He has enjoyed tackling the complexity of the character of Jack Kelly, remarking on the myriad emotions Jack expresses throughout the show. “He gets angry, sad, happy, confused, stressed, etc. So it’s been a very challenging and fun role to play.”
In addition to the fantastic choreography and brilliant music, Shay is also very excited to have audiences of the show witness the beautiful projections designed by Erik Evensen, Associate Professor of Design at UW-Stout. MTG has never done a show with this level of technology involved, and Shay is eager for folks to see how it enhances the production.
Evensen reflects that, “When Katie Shay and I first talked about this, and she showed me the images of the Broadway production, I immediately saw the process unfold…The screen projections are basically collage work. Luckily, there are archives of photographs of New York City at the turn of the 20th century that are high resolution and in the public domain. I took bits and pieces of those, and combined them with some digital effects, colors, textures, and some of my own illustration work to create a custom look for the show.”
The result of all of the hard work, expertise, and progressive directing, combined with a magnetic story, compelling characters, and music that will have you tapping your feet, is an excellent production that shouldn’t be missed. So, stop the presses, seize the day, and get your tickets now to see MTG’s “Newsies.”