Starring no less than 50 Flagstaff theater students ages 10 to 18, TheatriKids’ production of Disney's “Newsies: The Musical” took a team of staff and community members to help pull off.
“These kids are a lot of fun [and it’s easy] to work with them because they bring their talent and artistry, but it does take a team to manage a show that’s this big,” director Joe Maniglia said. “It pushes the limits of our theater to have 50-some people on the stage.”
The Disney movie-turned-Broadway show is based on the true story of newsboys in turn-of-the-century New York City that band together to strike against unfair working conditions.
The show features music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman and a book by Harvey Fierstein that was based on the 1992 film's screenplay by Bob Tzudiker and Noni White.
Maniglia collaborated with musical head Kenlynn Winsor and choreographer Leslie Baker. Production manager Lisa Boatner and co-director NAU student Ashley Frederickson were also part of the team.
However, Maniglia said, “it’s been a real community effort outside of the theater as well.”
Bracken Davis, who has been a longtime Theatrikos volunteer, took on the enormous task of putting together the 1890s-inspired costumes.
“A lot of the costumes are stuff that she’s mended to make them look period. [There are] flat caps and nickers that she’s made out of pants,” Maniglia said, adding that many Theatrikos’ costumes were refitted for the kids.
As for the set pieces and props, the Northern Arizona University theater department lent some of its pieces, and community member Jim Babbitt donated an authentic old printing press.
Because of the large cast, the “Newsies” team had to find other rehearsal spaces. Flagstaff High School, Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy, Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, Trinity Heights United Methodist Church and Flagstaff Aerial Arts were all places that opened their doors to the team, which started rehearsals in February.
Maniglia, who was inspired to make “Newsies” ever since his daughter came to him with raving reviews after seeing the screen version at Harkins, said he knew going in that the rights to the Disney musical would cost top dollar, but it was worth it for what the students were able to learn both about musical theater and the time period.
Because the play is based on history, the kids learned about people like Teddy Roosevelt and Joseph Pulitzer.
“We always try to ground our plays in reality, even in the fantasy shows we find what we can teach and what can we learn,” Maniglia said. “[There was] a real newspaper boys' strike that led to the children’s crusades. [It’s good for them to learn] about it so that they can understand the world in which we’re asking them to inhabit.”
Although the cast was able to be split up into smaller groups at times—some getting fitted for costumes while others practiced their blocking for fight scenes and others worked on dialogue—all the dancing scenes feature the whole cast.
“The ensemble dancing dance numbers are incredibly intricate,” Maniglia said.
This sentiment was also shared by 18-year-old FALA student Johanna Weiss, who said she loves playing Medda Larkin, a “sassy, confident” theater owner who is “a real powerhouse.”
“The dance numbers weren’t easy to pull off, and I was really impressed by the younger kids,” she said.
Other cast members include Matthew Suttphen as Jack, Anya Taylor as Catherine, Dermot Louchart as Davey, Harper Bowie as Les, Rumi Dovzak as Joseph Pulitzer and Dallin Scott as Crutchie.