“Strike! Strike! Strike!” It is the chant of the New York City newspaper boys in the song “Seize the Day” at the end of Act One of “Newsies.” The energetic musical comedy-drama is one of Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School’s biggest shows yet, with over 60 local students participating as cast, crew, set builders, stage technicians, interns and more.
“Newsies” will be performed at South Burlington High School, 7 p.m., May 10 and 11.
At a recent Saturday rehearsal, the cast practiced acrobatic dance moves, while director Gail Kilkelly called out cues. Kilkelly, visual and performing arts teacher at Tuttle, reports she selected “Newsies” for its Tony award-winning musical score and the strong character-building theme. The musical tells a David-and-Goliath story of New York City newspaper boys taking on a powerful publisher, inspired by the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899.
“This is my first experience with ‘Newsies,’” said Kilkelly, “and I have to say, the actors and South Burlington High School drama interns are having a blast.”
Playing the lead role of Jack Kelly, a charismatic newsboy who leads the band of teenaged “newsies,” is 13-year-old Ronnie Farrell. An eighth grader with considerable acting experience, Farrell has appeared in productions with Flynn Arts, Very Merry Theater and Lyric Theatre.
“Ronnie came to the audition extremely well-prepared,” says Kilkelly. “He was confident in his characterization and thoughtful about his artistic decisions. He’s a wonderful talent and a pleasure to direct.”
In the story, the newsies ingratiate an aspiring journalist, played by Lily Hankes, a theater owner (Sophia Bouffard), and even Governor Roosevelt (Trent Biaza) in their fight against publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Ishir Agarwal). The show features rock music, comedic banter, tap dancing, brotherhood through adversity and ultimately, triumph.
“I think audiences will love this show,” Farrell said. “They will feel like they’re a part of this huge movement, even though it happened many years ago.”
Not far from where the cast is rehearsing, the school’s gymnasium has become a makeshift workshop abuzz with power drills and circular saws. A devoted crew of students and parent volunteers are constructing an elaborate two-story set.
The creative mastermind behind Tuttle’s set designs is teacher David Bailey, who said, “I find it to be the ultimate creative process. It combines art, engineering, carpentry, math and more. I learn so much with each production.”
Bailey is equally passionate about what he is teaching.
“Set building gives student a feeling of being part of something important,” he said. “Even those who struggle to fit in find this a place to thrive, gain skills, and build self-worth. The most gratifying part of set design and construction is the shared experience.”
Kilkelly echoed Bailey’s sentiments, saying students learn to “check their egos at the door” in the collaborative process of bringing a show to the stage.
“My process is about creating an authentic, artistic experience that is satisfying to the actor and the audience,” she said.
“Newsies” promises to delight when it opens Friday evening, May 10. Tickets go on sale to the public April 19 on the Tuttle school website.