Catherine Jozwik
Theater

How a Newsboy Strike Became a Musical

Skylight presents ‘Newsies’, a protest musical about boys fighting unfair labor practices.

By - Nov 15th, 2019 04:14 pm
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The cast of Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Disney’s Newsies running November 15 – December 29, 2019. Photo by Mark Frohna.

The cast of Skylight Music Theatre’s production of Disney’s Newsies running November 15 – December 29, 2019. Photo by Mark Frohna.

This weekend Skylight Music Theatre opens the Broadway phenomenon Newsies for its holiday show. The production, which is directed by Molly Rhode has a cast of 30 that includes 16 young performers who play roles close to their own ages, opens tonight and runs through December 29.

Inspired by the actual Newsboy Strike of 1899, in which a group of New York newsboys, led by Kid Blink, decided to rally against media conglomerates Pulitzer and Hearst for unfair labor practices, the play’s themes echo today’s social and political climate.

“This story is set at the turn of the century, but it doesn’t feel far away,” said Rhode in an email. “The way these young people stand up and say ‘listen to me!’ is happening right now, all across the globe. (Newsies) is not only a nostalgia piece. Its relevance and inspirational power are pertinent today.”

The production, based on the popular 1992 Disney movie starring Christian Bale and Bill Pullman, first came to the Broadway stage in 2012. It features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, a book by actor Harvey Fierstein, and songs such as “Carrying the Banner,” “Santa Fe,” and “Seize the Day.”

“(Newsies) is, perhaps, more topical now than when the movie came out, and even when the Broadway show opened, with the March For Our Lives movement started by high school students after the Parkland, Fl tragedy, to Greta Thunberg demanding that her generation take action on environmental abuse to Malala Yousafzai shining light to the world on human and women’s rights in Pakistan and beyond, and so many others,” said Michael Unger, Skylight Music Theatre artistic director, in an email.

The 1899 Strike also influenced newsboys in Milwaukee. The city’s public schools were home to numerous newsboy clubs, a publication entitled The Newsboy’s World, and the Newsboy Republic of Milwaukee, an organization which promoted the welfare of area newsboys.

In addition to Rhodes as director and choreographer, the Newsies creative team includes Christie Chiles Twillie as music director, Jason Orlenko as costume designer, Joseph Arthur Franjoine as lighting designer, Hankyu Lee as sound designer, and Daniel J. Hanson as production stage manager.

The Newsies cast includes Chicago actor Marco Tzunux in the lead role Jack Kelly, Rachael Zientek as Katherine Plumber, Jordan Arrasmith as Crutchie, and Nicholas Parrott as Davey. Whitefish Bay Middle School student Abram Nelson and St. Thomas Aquinas Academy student Edward Owczarski will share the role of Les. The Newsies ensemble consists of 14 young actors from area schools, some of whom have performed in past Skylight productions Hairspray and Annie: Joseph Davila, Francis Faye, Eloise Field, Kamani Graham, Nathan Kabara, Keleous Lang, Max Larson, Michael Loomans, Lily Miller, Matthew Peterson, Alice Rivera, Tikvah Schlissel, Paisley Schroeder, and Nolan Van Haren.

“Children are, as with these newsies 120 years ago, again effective agents of change for issues in the world that affect them directly,” said Unger. “In the divisive society in which we find ourselves, these young voices present a balance of reason that is undeniable. It is my hope that we, as a society, listen to them because their unique perspective is not to be diminished because of their age/size, it is to be celebrated.”

“This is truly a show for everyone. All ages, all types and stripes,” Unger added.

The Skylight will hold a sensory-friendly performance of Newsies at 6 p.m. Wednesday, November 27, and the production will be interpreted in American Sign Language on December 6, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office, 158 N. Broadway, by phone at 414-291-7800, or online at www.skilightmusictheatre.org.

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