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MCHS mounts a striking performance of Newsies

Newsies highlights dark side of the 19th-century newspaper industry.
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The full cast of Morinville Community High School's production of Newsies gives it their all. Newsies runs May 21-23, 2022, at Morinville Community Cultural Centre. VANESSA KING/Photo

New York City is often thought of as one of the most glamorous cities on the planet, however, Morinville Community High School presents Newsies, a musical featuring 19th-century predatory practices of the Big Apple's wealthiest tycoons. 

It’s a rousing, passionate play based on true events, and what makes it more astounding is how New York's newspaper titans took advantage of street kids. 

Newsies is inspired by the newsboy strike of 1899 after Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the Evening World, and Randolph Hearts, publisher of New York Evening Journal, raised their selling price for delivery boys. Impoverished street kids who bought the “papes” were already selling them at a puny wage. The newsboys went on strike, violence ensued, and its social-political implications reverberated across a nation. 

“Newsboys would go to distribution centres and buy a stack of 100 papers for 50 cents. (Paper boys sold them for a penny.) If the newsboys couldn’t sell them, they had to swallow the cost. When the [Spanish-American] war ended, circulation went down. War is great for selling newspapers. Not wanting to lose profits, publishers raised the cost of newspapers to 60 cents. It was put on the weakest of the weak,” said director Vanessa King. 

Although the cast ranges in age from 13 to 17 years, some of the original boys were only eight and nine years old. Many were immigrants. Some were parentless, living rough, and going hungry. But it was their persistence that inspired other child labourers to join the strike.

“The entire city of New York ran on newsboys, messenger boys, elevator boys. Every kid should have been in school. These little guys had no one to support them. They just had strength in numbers. That was why it was important to get all child labourers to join the strike,” explained King. 

Jack Kelly, played by Evan Charrois, 17, is an orphaned dreamer and charismatic leader of the strike. He rallies the boys and convinces them to stop buying “papes.” 

“He’s the big brother everyone relies on. Evan really fits the role. He’s a great singer. Beyond the singing part, he has a lot of confidence. He can own the moment. He can pump up the newsies and still create those quiet moments. He’s a very versatile actor,” King said. 

Katherine Plummer, the female lead, is an ambitious young reporter searching for a scoop that will make her a legitimate journalist in a world where women aren’t taken seriously. 

“Sofiya Chvoijka, 15, has an incredible voice. She brings a youthful energy to the show. Kathleen is a very sophisticated woman, but she can hang out with the guys. She adds a romantic line with Jack and a bit of feminism.” 

Liam Weeks stickhandles Davey, a big brother who starts selling newspapers after his father gets hurt and loses his job. A leader in his own right, he gets swept up in strike fever and becomes the resistance's brains. 

“Liam is one of our great actors and has a lot of solos. The neat thing over four years is watching how he’s grown as an actor. With Newsies he gets to use a Brooklyn accent, and here he can play a really smart guy.” 

Stephanie Bello takes on the role of Crutchie, a dedicated newsie with a bum leg that’s painful. Despite the disability, Crutchie has a sweet sense of humour and an optimistic resilience. 

“He’s a character that pulls at everyone’s heartstrings. Crutchie sells more papers than the others, but he has to deal with his own struggles.” 

To pay tribute to the newsboys’ story, The Walt Disney Company hired a gold-standard team to write the musical: Alan Menken (music), Jack Feldman (lyrics), and Harvey Fierstein (book). With Morinville’s 32-actor cast and a 10-person team of choreographers, Newsies has a lot of moving parts. 

Menken’s music creates a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Each song requires a different style of dance, and the choreography team has blended martial arts, street dancing, tap, jazz, musical theatre, contemporary dance, and ballet. 

Newsies is a sign live theatre has returned to Morinville. Showcasing a killer production with depth is a big part of attracting audiences. 

“The message is you can have an effect on the world. You can inspire even if you consider yourself the little guy — David versus Goliath. But it takes a certain amount of collaboration to get change done. And that’s what the newsboys learned. They couldn’t do it themselves.” 

Newsies runs May 21 at 1 p.m. and May 21 to 23 at 7 p.m. At the Morinville Community Cultural Centre, 9502 100 Ave. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. Call the school 780-939-6891. 

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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