Find ‘wonderful, wonderful’ talent at KVTA’s ‘Newsies’

September 27, 2018

The Kankakee Valley Theatre Association is kicking off its 2018-19 season with the area’s first production of Disney’s “Newsies.”

“Newsies” is inspired by the true story of the Newsboys Strike of 1899 in New York City. Originally written as a Disney film in 1992, the musical was then adapted into a Broadway musical in 2012 and has garnered critical acclaim.

Unlike many Disney movies, there’s no princess, co-director Paula Sutter points out. The cast is largely made up of boys and men, making it a considerably unique show to begin the new season.

Directors Sutter and Courtney Casteel are thrilled to watch the acclaimed Broadway musical come to life, and they’re sure it will please nearly any type of person.

“As soon as the rights became available,” Casteel said, “we were online applying for it because we knew this was going to be a huge production, a huge musical.

“It’s exciting to be the first in the area to do it. We’ve both seen it done professionally, so we know how much we enjoy it. It was one of those we couldn’t pass up.”

Casteel grew up as one of the “cult followers” of the Disney movie, “so it’s just been in my DNA,” she explains.

Sutter, on the other hand, never watched the film but did see the Broadway musical four years ago.

“When I saw it on Broadway … I didn’t know anything about it,” Sutter said, “and I walked out going, ‘Where has this show been all my life?’”

Sutter and Casteel’s appreciation for both the musical and film make them the perfect duo to co-direct the production.

“Newsies” marks the 26th production Sutter has directed at KVTA.

“I grew up watching Paula and admiring everything she does,” Casteel said. “She took me under her wing, trained me and mentored me.”

The duo is now directing together for the second time. They previously directed 2014’s “Shrek The Musical.”

“I bring experience and a little more age to it,” Sutter said, “while she brings the youth and the new ideas, and we’re able to merge those together and work well together.”

“We each have different ideas for a scene, but we come to a middle ground,” Sutter added. “Sometimes my ideas are better, sometimes hers, and we just try to do what we think will benefit the show the best, whether it’s our idea or somebody else’s.

“We don’t have any knockdown, drag-out fights or anything,” Sutter joked.

One of the co-directors’ favorite parts of the show is the choreography.

“It just moves constantly,” Sutter said. “There’s never a dull moment. Even the slower songs are not dull; you get emotionally drawn in. And the dancing will just have people in awe. We have 29 dancers that have worked very, very hard.”

Some of Sutter and Casteel’s favorite songs to watch out for during the musical include “The World Will Know,” “King in New York” and “Letter From the Refuge.”

Directing “Newsies” has been largely delightful, Sutter and Casteel report. The sole difficulty they faced came at the beginning of the production.

“We had amazing auditions,” Casteel said, “so casting was a challenge because we could’ve casted it four different ways.”

Despite the tough decisions, Sutter and Casteel are confident in their cast members.

“We’ve got a stellar cast,” Sutter said. “The talent is from top to bottom. We have 50 cast members and there isn’t a weak one in the cast. Even our small ensemble parts just do such a great job; they all have such character.”

“We’ve got wonderful, wonderful talent,” Sutter said.

Among the talent are Kaleb Miller, portraying Davey Jacobs, and Joe Mantarian, portraying Crutchie, both of Bourbonnais. Both are happy to be acting in main roles during their first productions at KVTA.

“This is my first show with KVTA and really my first show in Kankakee County,” Miller said. “I did shows back throughout high school, but as a student at Olivet [Nazarene University], I just never really had time to get involved while being involved with other things.”

Similar to Miller, Mantarian is a former ONU student who is excited to be a part of “Newsies.”

Crutchie, a young, crippled boy who walks with a crutch, is a character who actually holds ties to Mantarian’s personal life.

“My father is handicapped. He’s always walked with crutches,” Mantarian said. “I love to play a role where I get to use a crutch. He doesn’t know that I’m a character with a crutch yet — I don’t think — so I’m excited to see what he thinks.

“It’s a little bit of an honor and shout-out to my dad,” Mantarian admitted.

Mantarian is honored to play the role of Crutchie, and even more excited to be a part of the “Newsies” cast.

“Probably one of the most special things [of the musical] is how young most of the cast is,” he said. It’s exciting to see “the wide range of people that come together.”

A couple of young people in the cast are Tanner Hurt, of Manteno, who portrays the lead role of Jack Kelly, and Lillian Hurt, also of Manteno, who portrays Katherine Plumber.

Lillian’s character is “just trying to break the mold of typical women roles and be in the working force.

“I think that’s something that’s exciting that girls and women today can relate to,” Lillian said.

Her character ends up being the love interest of Jack, which works out perfectly for Lillian and Tanner, who are married in real life.

“We just got married this past June,” Lillian said. “Right after we got back from our honeymoon, we practiced for the auditions.”

The cast of lovers, friends and newcomers is sure to delight audiences of all ages, genders and backgrounds.

“It will capture anyone’s attention, a 4-year-old to a 90-year old,” Sutter said.

“It covers a whole span of people and it just touches everybody, I think,” Casteel added.

Aside from entertaining, the musical can teach its audience about “compromise,” Sutter said, “and how a little person can take on a big person … and be successful without having a violent protest of any kind.”

The musical instills “the idea of what is good for a business may not be best for society,” Casteel said. “It makes people more open for listening to ideas and … hearing what our next generation has to say to us.”

If you’d like to hear from Jack Kelly, Katherine Plumber, Davey Jacobs, Crutchie and more at the Lincoln Cultural Center in Kankakee, purchase tickets online now at kvta.org.

Tickets are $20 for adults and $17 for students and seniors; children ages 3 and younger will not be admitted. Some tickets also might be available at the door.

“Newsies” will be performed at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, then again at 7 p.m. Oct. 6 and 2 p.m. Oct. 7.

For more information, visit the KVTA website or find them on Facebook.

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