The Chandler Youth Theater’s first teen-focused production revisits a little-known event from turn-of-the-century history.
“Newsies” dramatizes the story of New York City’s bitter newsboy strike of 1899. After publishers raised the prices of newspapers, a group of boys refused to sell them until prices were brought back down.
Disney used the conflict as inspiration for a 1992 film, which was later adapted into a theatrical musical in 2011.
With ballads like “Seize the Day” and “King of New York,” the musical is quickly earned the reputation as an uplifting crowd-pleaser about underdogs taking on powerful business magnates.
Audrey Ryan, Chandler Youth Theater’s director of productions, said the company’s adolescent performers wanted to stage the musical due to its high-adrenaline pace and complex themes.
“A lot of the older kids wanted to do something a little bit more challenging,” she said.
The youth theater has primarily focused on productions featuring kids of all ages since it started putting on shows out of ImprovMANIA a couple years ago. But “Newsies” marks the company’s first production exclusive to teenage performers.
The cast includes 43 actors between the ages of 11 and 18 from across the East Valley.
James Ryan, 18, takes on the role of Jack Kelly, the show’s protagonist and leader of the orphaned newsboys. Sofia Lindsey, 13, portrays Katherine Plumber, an aspiring young journalist who writes about the strikes and becomes Kelly’s love interest.
Other cast members include Ryan Creech, Mikayla Deely, Noelle Parent, and Daniel Campbell as Joseph Pulitzer, the famous newspaper mogul whose cost-cutting measures end up fueling the strike.
The actual strike lasted about two weeks and involved hundreds of newsboys marching across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Publishers eventually reached a compromise with the strikers by agreeing to buy back newspapers the boys couldn’t sell – allowing them keep more of their profits.
Seventeen years after the strike, Congress passed the country’s first law to regulate child labor.
Ryan said this production allowed her cast to learn about a time and place so far removed from the modern world.
Most of the actors are the same age as the actual newsboys, Ryan said’ But the conflicts and circumstances of the story’s characters are so different.
“We’ve been really focusing on the ‘why’ in this show and it’s really helped the kids find their energy and their passion when they’re singing these songs,” she said.
Ryan said black-and-white photographs documenting the 1899 strike will be projected onto a screen throughout the production.
Two dance students from Arizona State University helped Ryan choreograph the show and some of the dance numbers will include acrobatic, height-defying stunts.
This show has so much spirit to it, the director added, the energy starts to become contagious for whoever is watching the show.
“It makes me want to jump out of my seat and join them on stage,” Ryan said. “It’s what makes this production so good.”
The Chandler Youth Theater plans to stage teen-focused productions of “The Addams Family” this fall and “Grease” next spring.