Seize the day: Newsies has had a strong run at the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre
The story behind Newsies comes from the real life newsboy strike of 1899 in New York. The story was used in the 1992 Disney film staring a young Christian Bale. Newsies The Musical debuted on stage in 2011 and made its first appearance on Broadway in 2012. And now, it has come to live on the stage of the Fort Wayne Civic Theatre.
Director and choreographer Leslie Beauchamp saw the Broadway performance years ago with her husband. When The Civic Theatre gave her the chance to be at the helm of their show, she couldn’t pass it up.
“The biggest thing for me was what a fantastic opportunity for the Civic to reach out to a whole new generation of performers, because this show in particular has a lot of youth in it,” Beauchamp said.
Now heading into closing weekend, she looks fondly at the cast she has been able to work with. She is quick to laugh as she recounts countless sit downs with theater friends who are not part of the performance, but know she will spend endless time raving about the team she is able to work with.
“Everyone in the cast has been so energetic, dedicated and disciplined. It has been such a joy to go to rehearsal. They are willing to try anything,” Beauchamp said.
The version at the Civic Theatre has been running since mid-July starring Alex Leavell as Jack Kelly, Darby LeClear as Katherine Plumber, Eric Smead as Davey Jacobs, Parker Nagel as Les Jacobs, Will Francis as Crutchie and Matt Faley as Joseph Pulitzer.
Leavell saw the Broadway musical on Netflix about a month before auditions, but had not seen the original movie. His character was played by Bale in the movie and later by several actors, most notably Jeremy Jordan in the Broadway performances.
Leavell was immediately attracted to the role of Kelly because of the character’s personality.
“Mostly he’s just cool. He’s super confident, he’s got some swagger and he’s a smart ass; which is always fun,” Leavell said with a laugh. “He’s a crazy goofy guy that leads a bunch of kids. Its like a war at some points where he’s this general leading his troops.”
Although Bale and Jordan’s performances were striking in different ways to Leavell, he says that the entire cast has made a point of making the characters they play their own. That push for him came from advice early on from Beauchamp.
“She told me first thing ‘there are people who come with expectations,’ and even those performances of Christian Bale and Jeremy Jordan are totally different ‘so I want you to make this iteration of the character your own,'” said Leavell, a graduate of Northrop High School and Indiana University, who is in his fourth performance on the Civic stage with Newsies.
“I think we’ve all kind of made them our own characters while still playing faithful to what people expect.”
“I think that is important for any actor in anything they do because you have to bring yourself to a character and discover,” Beauchamp added. “Otherwise what you are doing is a caricature, trying to do what somebody else did.”
Adapting film characters is only a challenge for a handful of performers. The stage version of Newsies does not use the entire array of characters and many new characters were created for Newsies The Musical. Included in the changes for the Civic Theatre performance is the use of female Newsies to help round out a cast that is traditionally almost fully male.
For fans of the movie, the stage adaption is different in many other ways outside of characters. One of the biggest is the overall spacing for the choreography. While the Disney film has limitless space for the streets of New York, the stage experience creates a more unique space and perhaps even more of a challenge, what to do with the energy of the choreography on the smaller stage at the Civic Theatre.
“I don’t know if we really do contain the energy, we just kind of let it burst out onto the audience. That set does really help. The first time I was on the set, I thought of it immediately as an adult jungle gym where we can just kind of express ourselves and run around,” Leavell said.
Beauchamp says that they rely a lot on two scaffolding units that are very mobile, used to denote different areas of the city as well as lots of stairs and ladders to always keep the actors moving.
“We knew weren’t going to be able to have what they have on Broadway because we don’t have the capabilities. I wanted to make sure it was mobile, I wanted to make sure it was very airy,” she said. “In researching, I just thought it would be fun if it were like a playground. We just kind of threw some ideas out there and Adam [Fletcher] came up with the fantastic set that we have.”
Beauchamp feels too like there is a responsibility to manage the audience’s expectations for what they may have seen on Broadway or in film, especially when you do iconic stories, while still keeping the story as their own. The unique frame for Newsies comes in the fact that audience members either know and love the story or no little to nothing about it.
In the end, she thinks that the Civic Theatre’s version is unique but still true to the story the playwright originally put out and managed expectations well. Beauchamp and her support made sure to keep the dance in a loose, rough and tumble, playground style as seen in the Netflix version of the Broadway performance since that would be most well known as it was airing on the streaming service during the time they were auditioning for the Civic Theatre performance.
Beauchamp recognizes that the show is an all hands on deck type of ensemble and credits Chris Rasor, listed officially as assistant choreographer, as her right hand man through the entire experience. Rasor, she says, was by her side for all of the research from watching the movie and reading the script to historical research from the true story it is all based on. Ultimately, he was a major piece in putting everything together.
“Directing and choreographing, I don’t think the show could have come together without him.”
The cast features 37 total performers and Beauchamp has said that an interesting part for all of them has been noticing that each performance’s audience enjoys different parts most. Leavell, as a lead for the first time on the Civic stage, thinks that when the majority of the cast come together at the end of the performance is a moment with peak intensity.
“‘Once and for All,’ that whole scene at the end where we are tossing around newspapers, that scene is cool. We all get pretty hyped about that and it is some of the best singing that the group of kids does,” Leavell said.
Run time for the performance is just over two hours, with the first act taking one hour, eight minutes and the second act running 56 minutes with an intermission between.
Limited ticket quantities are still available for this weekend’s performances. Sunday’s final performance is sold out.
SEE THE SHOW
WHEN: Friday, August 10 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, August 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday, August 12 at 2 p.m. is SOLD OUT
WHERE: Fort Wayne Civic Theatre, 300 E. Main St. Fort Wayne, IN 46802
TICKETS: 260-424-5220 or fwcivic.org