Open the gates and seize the day — the Newsies are dancing into Issaquah’s Village Theatre this November.
In other words, get ready for boys in newsboy caps leaping through the air with stacks of newspapers.
The Disney musical, which is based on the historical events surrounding New York City’s Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, gained a cult following with the release of the 1992 film musical, which starred a young Christian Bale. Over the next 20 year, the musical grew big enough to land a two-year run on Broadway and subsequent national tour.
Capturing the spirit of the American dream in the era of the birth of labor unions and workers’ rights movements, the musical follows a group of penniless teenage boys who work as newspaper delivery boys to afford food and board. When Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of The New York World, ups the price of his newspaper to the delivery boys, they organize and form a strike.
With the help of intrepid journalist Katherine Plumber (secretly Pulitzer), who uses the power of the pen to draw attention to the Newsies’ predicament, the workers launch a movement that shows the city that everyone — even those considered to be at the bottom of society — deserves a fair shot.
“At its heart, it’s about a group of kids no one pays attention to — the unheard voice being heard to make change,” said Katy Tabb, the show’s choreographer. It’s a message, Tabb said, that is just as relevant today as in 1899.
For Tabb, the chance to choreograph “Newsies” on Village’s stage is her “10-year-old self’s dream come true.” As a young girl watching the 1992 film, Tabb felt inspired by the Newsies’ determination to join together and make the world a better place. In fact, she was so enthralled that she wanted to become one of the Newsies herself.
“But I couldn’t because I wasn’t a boy,” Tabb laughed. “So I get to live my vicarious ‘Newsies’ dream [through this show].”
It’s a dream that does not come without challenges. Due to the show’s dance-heavy nature, the 16 Newsies — who range in age from 16 to mid 20s — attend eight-hour dance rehearsals six days a week. Throughout their dances, each Newsie is constantly performing high-energy, gymnastics-esque tricks, such as flips, leaps and tumbles. Tabb calls “Newsies” a “‘don’t-try-this-at-home’ kind of show.”
“The choreographic demands of the show are very intense,” Tabb said, likening “Newsies” to other dance-centric musicals such as “42nd Street” and “A Chorus Line.”
“We’re fortunate to have an extremely talented cast,” Tabb said. “The energy in the room is extremely positive — it makes going to rehearsal fun.”
Village conducted a three-month search to find 16 young men who were strong and agile enough to perform the Newsies’ intensely athletic moves. Many of the actors actually have gymnastics backgrounds, Tabb said, which comes in handy for this kind of rigorous dancing. What’s more, all of the Newsies “have to be triple-threats,” Tabb explained — able not only to carry out the dance moves, but to act and sing, including hitting some high tenor notes.
Luckily for Village, Tabb said that she and the artistic team “haven’t found a stopping point of these guys’ energy.” Speaking to the Scene on her one day off that week, Tabb said that she was actually sad to not be at work that day, because the Newsies’ “can-do attitude and spirit are a joy to work with.”
Tabb previously choreographed “Billy Elliot” at Village in 2016, a show that she said left a “pretty instense stamp on my heart,” but she suspects that “Newsies” will be a close tie.
As big of a fan of the film as she is, Tabb said that one of her favorite parts of the stage show is the addition of of Katherine, a character who was originally a man in the film.
“It’s really exciting that one of the key characters is this bada** woman who helps all of the Newsies,” Tabb said. “She is a leading lady who is confident and powerful … before women were even reporters.”
As an investigative journalist in the day when such a career for women was unheard of, Katherine breaks the societal mold to which Victorian women were restricted and uses her writing talents to shed light on the Newsies’ cause, thus helping them to achieve their goals.
“It’s really important to show that women have a voice and have power,” Tabb said. “Without her help, the Newsies may not have been as successful.”
“Newsies” opens at Village Theatre on Thursday, Nov. 9 and runs through the holiday season, closing on New Year’s Eve. To learn more and purchase tickets, visit http://villagetheatre.org/issaquah/newsies.php.