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Local High School Hosts Disney’s ‘Newsies’

John Renfrow, Staff Reporter

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In 2013, Floyd Central High School was heralded by Stage Directions Magazine as the “best theatre school in the midwest.” The school has consistently been invited to the International Thespian Festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, earning accolades for excellence in many different aspects of theatre from performance to technical theatre successes.

As of November, Floyd Central is the first to do what no high school theatre program has ever done before: produce a full extravaganza of Disney’s Newsies. This upbeat song-and-dance production tackles the newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City; a coming-of-age tale in which the dreamy songs of Alan Menken shine through New York grit at the dawn of the 20th Century.

Director of Theatre Arts at Floyd Central, Robbie Steiner, said he was approached in the spring by Disney Theatrical Group and Music Theatre International to propose that Floyd Central pilot the show before Disney’s releasing the rights for other high schools to do so.

“Piloting a Disney show means we are communicating back and forth with the folks at Disney throughout the process,” Steiner said. “They want to know what the challenges are of putting on this show at the high school setting, and like to test various approaches or changes to the show before finalizing the script and score. It was the perfect year for us to do Newsies.”

Steiner says this production’s dance style is what separates this show from past performances, reaching a new level of complexity and difficulty, and in turn, a new standard of excellence and discipline.

To fully prepare for the show, student actors quickly began a busy summer regimen of yoga for five days a week, combined with additional strength training for three days a week.

“Unlike a traditional Broadway dance show, such as 42nd Street, the choreography is layered” Steiner said. “Groups are constantly moving in and out all over the stage, rather than everyone on stage doing the same routine [at once]. It calls for numerous big leaps, jumps, and tricks. It really took a lot to get our kids in shape so they could execute the dance style effectively.”

Senior Mitchell Lewis says the audience’s responses have been so resounding he uses them as breathers between difficult, more physically demanding scenes.

Lewis plays the lead role of Jack Kelly, the headstrong leader of the newsboys, described by Lewis as a “loud and proud leader with always something to say.”

According to Lewis, Kelly’s initial motivation in the show is to lead a strike to lower prices for newsboys, but eventually to one-day return to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to escape the crazed streets of New York.

While claiming it as his most defining role to date, Lewis says the level of emotional and physical demand make this one of his most difficult roles.

“The show itself is a beast because the musical numbers are incredibly demanding and our set is extremely complicated,” Lewis said. “The most difficult part for me [however] was to try to reflect the emotional objective to the audience, to find my ‘Santa Fe.’”

Lewis said he researched the era of time in which the show takes place. Once he understood the historic details of the strike of 1899, Lewis says he became familiar, identifying with his character.

I feel I am very similar to Jack Kelly. I don’t feel like I need to act much onstage because we connect in ways like being a leader and being everyone’s pal,” Lewis said. “This is definitely my favorite show I’ve done so far.”

In Lewis’s eyes, Disney’s involvement with Floyd Central provides the right mindset for the cast to give the best show they possibly can, claiming every single actor has an important role in the production.

“[By] collaborating with Disney, there is definitely a lot of pressure, but it’s a positive pressure. We get to make the show our own and find ways to help Disney provide the right resources and modifications to fit a high school setting in the future,” said Lewis. “This could definitely be considered Floyd Central’s biggest show.”

Steiner, Lewis, and the rest of the cast and crew said they relish their sold-out performances during both weekend runs. During the second weekend of shows, adjudicators from the International Thespian Festival will attend to determine if this show is worthy of being invited as part of the Festival MainStage series. According to Steiner, if selected, the program will take Newsies to Lincoln, Nebraska for a week-long festival in which the show would perform in front of 4000 students, educators and Broadway professionals.

“Directing this show has been very fun for me,” said Steiner. “The show has such a joyful spirit to it and resonates with teenagers so well because it is about kids their age finding a voice. We had the right combination of kids and couldn’t have done it as well any other year in recent memory.”

Soon, Disney’s temporary seat at Floyd Central’s theatre program will be gone, but with no small amount of magic left behind. According to Steiner and Lewis, this experience will build relationships for the program, helping students become professionals they aspire to be.

Steiner and his students had their day in the limelight. Although always looking into the future, Steiner said he believes this show in was unique and set a new standard for the program.

“I could see us doing [this show] again, but it would likely be a long time down the road,” Steiner said. “The right group would have to come along.”

Floyd Central Theatre is back in action with another Disney musical in “The HunchBack of Notre Dame: A New Musical” on Feb. 9, 11 and 16-18, at Floyd Central High School Auditorium.

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Local High School Hosts Disney’s ‘Newsies’