A scene from Newsies. The musical will be performed at Newton High Shool March 22-24. (Photo courtesty of Newton High School).
By Laurie Gordon NEWTON - Catch the musical, Newsies, on the Newton High School Stage: Based on the New York City newsboy strike of 1899 when young newspaper sellers, the Newsies, stood up against the ruthlessness of big business. “There are a couple of base line features I look for in choosing a musical,” said Brendan Scullin, History Teacher and Theatre Director for the 19 years. “First, the content should be appropriate for a high school setting. Second, I would like to choose a production that provides good opportunities for the ensemble.Third, I would like to see as much equity in roles for genders as possible.” “High School Theatre is usually female heavy,” he said. “Yet when one looks for shows the number of male protagonists far outweigh female ones.” Based on a 1992 movie, the Broadway version of Newsies (2012-2014) recently released rights through Music Theatre International. “The content and difficulty fall very well into the high school wheel house,” Scullin said. “I am seeing that quite a few school and community theatres are producing it.” The school also liked that Newsies also has catchy ensemble pieces allowing for more stage time for actors. “Newsies offers one thing that many traditional productions struggle with,” Scullin said. “Multiple supporting roles can be filled with a male or female actor. I like that the audition process for these roles means that students can audition on equal footing, and no matter which gender auditions, the role is truly up for grabs.” Newton High School staff involved in addition to Scullin include: Ashley Foster, Choral director, (1st year as music director for Newton High School), Steve O’Toole, Band Director, Pit Conductor (since early 2000s), and Liz Fusco, Special Education Teacher, Publicity (since 2015). Outside staff include: Kimberly Jackson, Choreographer, (2006 Newton High School graduate, hired in 2007 to be their choreographer), Greta Nappa, Costumer, (parent of former and present student, costumer since 2011), and Ken Aulicino, Set Designer (parent of former student, started helping in 2003, daughter graduated in 2006). Leads in the play will be Imad Balatero, a senior playing Jack, Natalie Yost, a senior playing Katherine, Carolyn Granholm, a junior playing Crutchie, Kevin O'Gorman, a junior playing Davey, Ilira Mersena Macaj, a freshman playing Les, and Zach Halterman, a freshman playing Joseph Pulitzer. Auditions for Newsies began Dec. 17. Students sang a song and participated in a dance audition. A smaller group of students was chosen to be called back for specific roles, where they sang again and acted in small scenes. By that Friday, a cast list was posted. Jan. 3 was the group's first read through. “One hurdle is getting community members to come and witness the wealth of talent on the Newton stage,” Scullin said. “The audiences we have are great audiences, but we also have a lot of empty seats. I would love our actors to have full houses, and I am pretty sure community members who have not seen our students’ work, will be pleasantly surprised.” Producing a musical is much more expensive than many think. “Luckily in addition to our ticket sales, the Newton Board of Education is willing to help us pay for the rights and rentals,” Scullin said. “Newton area businesses purchase ads for our program, and this year Thor Labs donated a very generous amount in order to help us with our expenses.” One of the most difficult hurdles? "Coordinating time to rehearse with a group of students who are so incredibly busy in their personal lives,” Scullin said. “The majority of our cast members are involved in multiple programs at Newton High School and each program has to pull these ambitious students in every direction. The good news is we have some pretty well-rounded young adults.” Members of the cast and the instructors have formed a strong bond through Newsies. “The cast bonds the most during dance rehearsals,” Scullin said. “We do have a few trained dancers, but the large majority of the cast has no dance experience. Our brilliant choreographer, Kimberly Jackson, is skilled at creating dances that suite the abilities of our actors. It is a joy to watch then help each other, and as the numbers come together, they just get more fun to watch.” This week, on Friday, March 15, the cast will tour schools from Newton's sending districts, including Florence M. Burd School, Long Pond School, and Merriam Avenue School, where they will perform a short preview of the show. This will provide another great opportunity for bonding within the cast, as well as promoting the arts in our community. Students from Green Hills School and Halsted Middle School will enjoy a preview performance of the show at NHS during the following week. What makes Newsie's unique? Scullin said it's the students. “No other school has Newton High School students,” he said. “I like to think that from top to bottom in a Newton High School show, the audience is watching all performers, perform. You should see very little drop in talent from leading role to supporting role to ensemble. In fact, I cannot think of a show where at least one person did not stop me to tell how amazing the ensemble was. We have seen other schools work sponsorship into their programs, and Newton is thinking of researching the same process. We would love to know if there are businesses out there that would have an interest in supporting the performing arts in education.” Performances are; March 22 and 23 at 7:30 p.m. and March 24 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at NHSbooktix.com.