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March 7, 2019
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First Stage Theatre Company performs a scene from its upcoming production of "Newsies" between sets at a prom fashion show on March 2 at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville.

HUNTINGTON — Stop the presses! And if you like a fun musical with a great message, stop what you’re doing and go directly to Huntington High School as First Stage Theatre Company wraps up its 29th season in style with a one-weekend-only production of Disney’s Broadway musical “Newsies,” performed by a cast of 50 at the HHS auditorium.

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Tickets are $12 and $10 for children age 12 and under and are available at the door and may be reserved by calling 304-416-5437.

Set in New York City in 1899, “Newsies” is the story of young paperboys and girls struggling to make a living selling newspapers on the street. When the titans of publishing raise the prices at the newsboys’ expense, the newsies rally to strike and fight for what’s right.

Inspired by a true story, the musical features such classic songs “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” and “Santa Fe.”

“Newsies” is one of the biggest shows that First Stage, which will begin its 30th season in the fall, has undertaken in some time. First Stage is also the first community theater group in the region to produce the show, which was just released to community theater.

“This is a big show in a lot of ways,” said director Chuck Minsker, who has been with First Stage since 1995. “It it not a junior show. It is a two hours of performance and that is a lot of singing and dancing. That’s why at rehearsals the first thing Sarah Navy (the choreographer) did was to make them run laps and do crunches and sit ups because you have to be in shape to dance for two solid hours, and it has paid off. They are amazing up there.”

Minsker said to get an idea of how big the show is you just have to take a look at how long First Stage has been working on this production. Let’s just say it has been the longest “10 to 12 weeks” of his life.

“With a typical musical like this your rehearsal time runs about 10 to 12 weeks,” Minsker said. “We knew that this was going to be such a dance-intensive show that we had a lot of skills that had to be taught and so we had to start early. We auditioned in August, which is a lot more than 12 weeks. We started once a week dance sessions on the weekend for two hours every week and that ran all through January when we started the full cast rehearsals.”

Helping the kids learn all the dances has been Sarah Hayes Navy, who has a bachelor’s degree in dance education from Radford University with a theater minor. Navy, who starred in January in Charleston Light Opera Guild’s production of “Mamma Mia,” is the show choreographer while Assistant Choreographer is Cindy Westbrook.

Navy said, while rehearsing for “Mamma Mia,” that while it has been a lot to balance her work life as a math teacher at Milton Middle School with also choreographing “Newsies,” she couldn’t pass up the chance to help with the show.

“When I was asked to be a part of ‘Newsies,’ I was thrilled,” Navy said. “I love ‘Newsies.’ It is such a fun musical and I know that these kids in First Stage Theatre Company are eager to learn some difficult choreography. They don’t want anything dumbed down. They want something impressive for the community.”

For this one-weekend-only show, Navy has been giving one-day a week Sunday afternoon dance workshops since September for a group of about 20 kids.

“They come with bells — and kneepads — on,” Navy said. “They want it. A lot of* the high school kids are dancing with brooms. I taught them to play spoons and they have their tap shoes ready. They are so professional that I am thrilled to work with them because they come in ready to go.”

One of the reasons that First Stage’s directing team found the students, who hail from all parts of the Tri-State, were so ready to go is the moving and inspirational true story of fighting corruption and power through young people banding together.

“It is such a great show for kids and it is about kids,” Minsker said. “It’s based on the true story from 1899 when the newspaper owners basically tried to raise the rates and the kids delivering newspapers went on strike and shut down the city of New York until the owners backed off. It’s a case of these street urchins standing up to the most powerful companies and men in New York and that set off a chain of events that changed child labor laws. It was the start of something big. It is a great story and to add to that you have a show that has all of these wonderful songs and great dance numbers so it is something that the kids really wanted to be a part of.”

Olivia Fosson, a senior at Huntington High School and resident of Lawrence County, Ohio, couldn’t wait to be in the show. Fosson, who has been in more than 20 shows at Huntington High School, First Stage and Paramount Players, has actually seen “Newsies” twice in New York and was ecstatic someone was doing the show here.

“It’s very relatable for teens and middle school audiences because it is about younger generations coming into their own and speaking their minds and getting things done,” Fosson said. “It’s a very relatable message with some very fun dances and songs.”

Fosson said she feels like her generation is also one that is coming together to raise their voices collectively when they feel like justice is not being done and they are not being heard.

“I think there is a natural reaction when things that were done a decade ago don’t work any more or are not important to the next generation,” Fosson said. “We are the ones that are impacted by the changing values of the world and to keep it up being progressive the young people have to keep it going forward. Look at the Parkland survivors. They are amazing students and role models. They faced something no one should have to go through but they pushed through their grief and emotions and advocated for change.”

Fosson, who is planning on majoring in musical theater in college, said that there is a special feeling with First Stage since it draws in theater students from around the region.

In addition to students coming from all over the region from Ashland to Hurricane and all parts in between, there’s also five adult actors in the play — some well-known faces to the regional theater scene and some First Stage alums as well. Those adults include Owen Reynolds, John Campbell, Max Wilson, and a couple fathers, Parr Thacker and Rob O’Lynn, who both have children in the show.

“It is like coming home because I started First Stage when I was in fifth grade and I have done it up to my last show, which is this one, so it is something I grew up around,” Fosson said. “I have gained so many wonderful friends. This show has an incredible cast and I can’t say enough good things about them. The production team is incredible. It’s not only incredible that they are working with us but that they want to work with us that makes rehearsals, tech week and everything a joy.”

While First Stage is always known to be very proactive in doing promotions to spread the word, including their pancake breakfast. Minsker said this show has been particularly fun with the tie-in with The Herald-Dispatch, which teamed up with “Newsies” to do a flash mob last weekend at the Huntington Mall during its prom fashion show.

“We’ve had a lot of fun at the flash mob that we coordinated with The Herald-Dispatch and giving out copies of the newspaper. They really enjoyed that,” Minsker said. “We go through a lot of newspapers that they’ve given us for props for the show, and the kids even print their own at one point in the show.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: First Stage Theatre Company wraps up its 29th season in style with its production of Disney’s Broadway musical “Newsies”

WHERE: Huntington High School auditorium

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 8, at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, March 10.

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $12 and $10 for children age 12 and under and are available at the door or may be reserved by calling 304-416-5437.

THE STORY: Set in New York City in 1899, “Newsies” is the story of young paperboys and girls struggling to make a living selling newspapers on the street. When the titans of publishing raise the prices at the newsboys’ expense, the newsies rally to strike and fight for what’s right. Inspired by a true story, the musical features such classic songs “Carrying the Banner,” “Seize the Day,” and “Santa Fe.”