As with many of its previous shows, the cast for ACT 1’s “Newsies” includes several families performing together. Many of the young singers and dancers are performing with siblings and/or parents.
Kelly Henkle, who perfomed with her daughter, Carmen, in “Annie,” is now involved in “Newsies” with Carmen and her son, Loren.
“The cast and directing team are so talented,” says Kelly. “Carmen and Loren have loved all of the choreography, and practice together at home.”
Also, says Kelly, “The set pieces are so authentic.”
Director Steve Arnold says that the realistic-looking bridge used in many of the outdoor scenes is the creation of Terry Cline, who used cinnamon and coffee grounds to help create the look of rustic iron.
“They’re made mostly of wood, and the rust effect is created with cinnamon, coffee grounds, and wet toilet paper,” says Arnold. “Terry mixes the cinnamon into orange paint, which makes the color more intense, then he rubs the coffee grounds over it for another layer of color, and splotches of toilet paper creates an added look of decay.
There are five six-foot platforms which can be arranged any way we like, and a sixth platform that is ten feet high.
The run of “Newsies” is half-way over. The first three shows took place last weekend; this weekend’s schedule includes Friday and Saturday 7:30 opening curtains and a 2 p.m. matinee for the final show on Sunday.
Arnold says the first weekend of the show was such a good experience for everyone in the show.
The performances were well attended, he said, adding that there’s room for bigger crowds this weekend, and the entire cast delivered three exciting, committed performances, from the leads to the smallest ensemble parts.
“I think what we all love best about this show is that it’s not just high energy choreography and fast paced songs. This is a real story that makes you think.,” says Arnold. “This is a part of our American history. It’s about real kids who faced serious odds, who stood up for themselves and fought for their best interests. Even though the incident this play is based on happened 119 years ago, the story still feels very contemporary. I think that’s why the kids in the cast love it so much. Even in the darker moments of the story, our cast can put themselves into that fight, so that they’re not telling the story, they are living it.”
Arnold says the audiences seemed to really like the show, and the set decorators and costume designers have created a realistic stage setting for the telling of the story that took place near the turn of the 20th Century.
“I also have to say that the physical production is pretty exciting, too.,” says Arnold. “The costumes really help make the story more real, and ACT I has never had a set like this one before. It’s been very exciting for me to just sit back each night and watch it all unfold.”
Producer Monica Funk, whose sons Casey and Alex are in the cast, says the family connection at ACT 1 is very strong.
“We had a great opening weekend with very enthusiastic audiences and an even more enthusiastic cast,” says Funk, who also serves as stage manager. “It has been a privilege to work with such a talented cast and crew and to be one of the first community theaters in this area to produce ‘Newsies.’ As I’ve seen in previous shows, the cast has formed a strong family bond and have worked many hours to put together an amazing show. And it is has been a joy to not only work with two of my kids on this show, but to see several other families participating together as well.”
Family participation, Funk adds, is not limited to performers.
“We have a really great group of families and parents for this show,” she says, “including those participating onstage, and all the parents who have helped backstage, worked in carpools to get to kids to rehearsals, and even several added afternoon dance rehearsals. They have been very, very supportive of their kids and of the show.”
Casey Funk plays the lead role of Jack Kelly, the leader of the newsies of Lower Manhattan. Center Point Urbana student Newelle Dawton plays opposite funk as the young reporter sent to cover the story of the strike and later becomes his girlfriend.