Newspapers, unions and strikes seem unlikely subjects for a Broadway musical, but the combination — with heavy doses of music and choreography — proved winning enough to make “Newsies” a stage hit when it debuted on Broadway in 2012.
That popularity brought it to the attention of the Waco Civic Theatre, which will stage the musical in a two-weekend run beginning Friday and, given that the first Saturday night is sold out, has led to the addition of two Saturday matinees.
“It’s really fun to watch. ‘Newsies’ is one of the more well-known contemporary musicals,” said Cameron Dinkens, who is directing the show after previous stints as music director for the WCT production of “Hairspray” and acting in “Hairspray” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
The story follows Jack Kelly (Joey Tamayo), the charismatic and informal leader of the boys who hawk newspapers on New York City streets at the turn of the 20th century. When New York World publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Todd Blattman) decides to cut their rates as a profit-saving measure during an economic downturn, Jack and fellow paper sellers Crutchie (Jaden Fox) and brothers Davey and Les (Tim Griffin and Sam Conaway/Lane Widacki) realize their livelihood is on the line.
They decided to fight by organizing against Pulitzer, hoping a shutdown of newspaper sales will force him to reconsider. Helping Jack — and becoming a romantic interest in the process — is newspaper reporter Katherine Plumber (Karis McMurry) and vaudeville theater operator Medda Larkin (Kelly McGregor). Pulitzer, on the other hand, is one of the most powerful men in New York and not without leverage of his own.
The combination of historical time period and contemporary music sold Dinkens on the musical and when its directing slot opened up, he lobbied for the role. “I’m a fan of the early 20th century and I like how this musical tells this story of uniting and what people can do,” he said.
The WCT production has a sizable cast of 37, nearly half of whom play newsboys, and a mix of WCT veterans and newcomers. “It’s been a wild ride to have all these personalities in one room together,” said the director.
Rehearsals with choreography started early on, Dinkens said, due to its centrality in the show, and it also led to the use of a recorded backing score. “Given the rigor of the choreography, we decided it would be better to know what the tempos are and keep them steady,” he said. Aiding Dinkens are choreographer Megan Condon and music director Kari Peden.
“This company is amazing. They make this show better than it should be,” he said.