After weeks of preparation, 54-member cast ready to roll out ambitious play for four performances only
By Al Stewart
After-school activities for a few dozen Arcadia High School students these past few weeks have involved extensive singing, dancing and learning how to deliver something called a “newspaper,” all while perfecting their best old-school New York accent. (Helpful hints: “three” is “tree,” and “water” is “wadda.”)
Meanwhile, the students’ weekend trips to the mall have included bouts of singing and dancing in the Center Court in period costume, to the delight of startled shoppers.
The frenzy of activity among the high-energy teenagers is in preparation for the much-anticipated production of “Newsies, The Musical,” the modern play based on a real-life New York City Newsboy Strike of 1899.
The 1,160-seat Arcadia Performing Arts Center, adjacent to the high school on Campus Road, will present four performances of the play with opening night set for Thursday, March 19 at 7 p.m. Subsequent performance are set for Friday, March 20, and Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. with a Saturday matinee performance 1 p.m. Ticket prices range from $10 for students to $30 for VIP admission.
Director Steven Volpe met with Arcadia Weekly at the theater during the first full rehearsal that included all 54 cast members. He noted the ambitious production required weeks of planning and rehearsing, but was chosen specifically because of the empowering message it sends young people.
“Newsies is really about kids gaining their voices,” explained Volpe, standing in the theater’s audience section as cast remembers in matching t-shirts practiced their moves on stage. “It’s really a story about how the newsies come together and resisted when the newspaper raises prices on them. In the political climate, we see today, we thought this was a good selection. And it is a Disney musical, so it has something for everyone.”
Volpe, a teacher for 17 years who has directed numerous student plays, said preparation for the cast members has included brief performances in the Center Court of the Santa Anita Mall. During one such performance, dozens of shoppers paused and were enthralled with the students/actors. The actors’ efforts were met with a warm round of applause.
“Newsies” originated as a film in 1992 and was later adapted into a much-beloved live-action musical that debuted in New York in 2011 and played for more than 1,000 performances before touring.
The Disney production undertaken by Arcadia students tells the story of Jack Kelly, (played by Derrik Griggs), a rebellious newsboy who dreams of a life as an artist away from the big city. After publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer (David Ro), hikes newspaper prices at the newsboys’ expense, Kelly and his fellow newsies fight back. With help from the beautiful female reporter Katherine Plumber (Megan Colton), all of New York City soon recognizes the power of “the little man.”
The two-act play is a highly elaborate undertaking for any theater ensemble. The 23 musical numbers include a two-minute flight scene that has required many hours of preparation, those involved said. The students have also been tasked with learning to speak with the distinct accents of kids living in the streets of New York over 100 years ago.
“It requires lots of timing to make sure the dialog works with the musical cues,” explained Musical Director Allen Everman. “It takes a lot of work, but so far it looks like its going great.”