At first glance, the newsboys’ strike of 1899 may or may not seem like fodder for musical theater, depending on your affinity for the exclamation “Wuxtry! Wuxtry!” (did they ever actually say that?). However, Disney took a stab at it in 1992, allowing Alan Menken and Kenny Ortega (the man singularly responsible for ruining the career of Billy Squier) to create an initial bomb that blossomed into cult-like status as the years went on and, eventually, found new life on Broadway, garnering several Tony nominations, a long run and an enviable touring life. The time-honored “way to stick it to the man!” ethos of Newsies “is relatable to any age or any decade,” says Rita Murray Maron, artistic director of Academy Players. “I selected this show because I love this story. Not always a Disney fan of (the) prince and princess (stories), but this one … I wanted the young people to get a taste of how easy it *wasn’t* to get behind something and to truly fight to be heard.”
The *something* in this case is the newspaper circulation wars and the resultant injustices that are instigated by William Randolph Hearst attempting to outsell New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer by artificially raising the price that carriers, mostly underprivileged boys, have to pay distribution centers. Rebellion and revolt ensue, often at great personal cost. This true story has shades of Oliver Twist and Annie combined with a David/Goliath twist, so it makes sense that the formula eventually caught on and won the favor of audiences and performers alike. Ortega’s original directorial vision was decidedly heavy on the dance numbers, so its transition to the stage only improved its outlook. As a preview of the rousing ensemble number “The World Will Know” at the 2018 Motif RI Theater Awards proved, the show has power beyond the cute-factor of a young cast and really strikes a chord with audiences.
“I love, love, LOVE shows with relevant, strong messages about community coming together,” says Maron. “Shows about community are very important to me.” No wonder, as Academy Players is one of the longer-running community theaters in Rhode Island, its original incarnation dating back to 1955 in East Greenwich. Maron’s incarnation, located in Providence, is a continuation of that community spirit with a tilt toward youth and family and greater inclusion for performers of all abilities. And now, to showcase the Rhode Island premiere of Newsies, comes the next stage in Academy’s evolution, the James and Gloria Maron Cultural Center of the Arts (see Motif’s feature on the new space here). Newsies will make its debut following a gala evening of guest panelists and artists, discussing theater and entertainment in Rhode Island. A theatrical bit of razzle dazzle to pump up interest in the show? Hardly. According to Maron, this production features “some of the best young adult talent from Rhode Island,” and her intent is to showcase the opening in a manner that befits the stature of the production. With the rights to the show only recently available, a slew of Newsies openings are in the works, and Maron wants hers to stick out and be noticed.
“I love new work,” she enthuses, when asked if she grabbed the rights simply because they were finally available. But, the themes of the script and the engaging song and dance numbers seem custom-fit for Maron’s stable of young performers at Academy, so any cynicism about jumping on first dibs is quickly diffused, especially for anyone who has seen a sneak peek. Performances are already starting to sell out and anticipation is high, so anyone who is a fan of the show or simply would like to see what stellar work Rhode Island’s community theaters can produce, grab tickets now, before all that’s left are the headlines.
Academy Players of Rhode Island presents the RI premiere of Disney’s Newsies: The Musical. September 13-30. 180 Button Hole Dr. (Bldg. 2), PVD. For tickets and/or more information, call 401-830-0880, email AcademyPlayersRI@gmail.com or visit academyplayersri.org.