The second complete production in Atlantic Canada of Disney’s musical Newsies will be put on by St. Thomas University’s Musical Theatre class from Feb. 20 to 24 at the Black Box Theatre.
The rights to the musical were released last year.
Newsies, set in 1899, follows Jack Kelly, played by second-year STU student Cameron Patterson, as he leads a group of lower Manhattan newsboys to strike.
Until that year, newsboys purchased newspapers to resell them on the streets. But then, the newspaper price rose.
Dustyn Forbes plays Albert, a newsboy, in the production. He said the increase in price made it impossible for the newsboys to earn enough to support themselves.
“That’s where the Newsies world takes place, throughout the revolution of fair wages for all kids in workhouses and all kids who are working on the streets.”
Forbes said even though the show is set in 1899, it has a modern message.
“Just because you might be oppressed, just because you feel like you might not be enough, if you’re living in [poor] conditions – political, personal – it’s just kind of a confidence boost.”
Multiple instructors, in addition to musical theatre professor Tania Breen, contributed their expertise. Ross Simonds, director of STU Singers, taught vocals. Jean-Michel Cliche, founder of Hot Garbage Comedy and certified fighting director, taught the fight scenes. Courtney Arsenault, a Theatre New Brunswick instructor, taught the dance choreography.
Forbes said it’s not easy fitting everyone onstage for the “heavy dance show” with a class of almost 50 students. Still, they managed.
“Everyone gets their moment to be on stage and experience what it’s like to be in a musical.”
Forbes said it was a challenge to have everyone dance in the same level, but cast members have been practicing since September. He said every scene features a dance number.
“At a liberal arts university where you’re not expecting to get such high-calibre performing arts training, we’re getting some of the best in the province and it’s amazing,” said Forbes.
Forbes said Newsies sold out so quickly that they added an additional show time.
“[The extra show will be] pretty strenuous on the body and the voice but everyone in the class was just full throttle wanting to do it.”
Peter Boyce, a second-year student who has acted in Theatre St. Thomas’ A Life of Galileo and The Importance of Being Earnest, will play Jack Kelly’s best friend Crutchie in Newsies. He also helped work on set production.
He said set pieces from past years and newly built ones make up this year’s Newsies’ set. The backdrop is lined with windows and there are some antique lamp posts. The main piece is the newsboys’ home. It has a couple doors, staircases and a rooftop.
He said after all the work he and the other students have put into this show, he’s excited for audiences to step into the Newsies‘ world.
“It’s an energetic show. All the shows are very beautiful. They’re very catchy and the characters are all very distinct and fleshed out,” Boyce said.
Patterson said this is his second time playing Jack, his dream role. He played the role for the first time in the summer with KV Players, a Kennebecasis theatre company.
“For it to happen once was amazing, and for it to happen twice was just a movie.”
He remembers the first time he saw Newsies in 2014 with a group of friends in Toronto. He said in that moment he knew he wanted to be a professional musical actor. He said acting is like skydiving.
“It’s something you can’t give up once you try it once and once you see something like that.”
Patterson said he loves working with friends and making theatre happen.
“They say if you love something enough, you’ll make time for it. So you make as much time as you can.”
Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. from Feb. 20 to Feb. 23 with matinees at 2 p.m. on Feb. 23 and Feb. 24.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated the STU Musical Theatre class’ production of Newsies was the second in Canada. It is actually the second production of Newsies in Atlantic Canada.