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Extra! Extra! Standing ovation for The Island Theater’s ‘Newsies’ production

Posted 10/19/23

FLEMING ISLAND – The Island Theater performed Disney’s “Newsies” in several sold-out shows this past month. Performers tap-danced, sang and spared on stage in an engaging and energetic …

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Extra! Extra! Standing ovation for The Island Theater’s ‘Newsies’ production


Posted

FLEMING ISLAND – The Island Theater performed Disney’s “Newsies” in several sold-out shows this past month. Performers tap-danced, sang and spared on stage in an engaging and energetic rendition demonstrating how anyone can start news-worthy movements.

“Newsies” dramatizes the historical Newsboys’ Strike of 1899, the youth-led labor movement in New York City that effectively stopped the circulation of printed newspapers, most notably a publication belonging to Joseph Pulitzer.

While Pulitzer’s name is synonymous with excellence in journalism today, he was known during his time as a founder of “yellow journalism.” His decision to cut costs, which led to the strike, was made to offset a decrease in newspaper sales following the end of the sensationalized Spanish-American War.

“Casting for ‘Newsies’ was held last May, and rehearsals continued throughout summer,” said Theater President Tricia Williams.

“It’s been a dream role for years,” said both Fleming Island High students Nick Williams and Sydney Fontenot.

Williams and Greg Schuknecht from Bartram Trail High were cast as the lead actors to play Jack Kelly. Williams possessed a commanding, charismatic stage presence. “Opening night was the scariest thing in the world,” said Williams. “To practice, I drilled myself with hours of tongue twisters in a New York accent,” he said.

The very first scene, “Santa Fe” (Prologue) was Williams’ favorite to perform. “It was the perfect ‘I Want’ song. It really set the stage and the themes that the audience can expect,” he said.

Fontenot and Ridgeview’s Jillian McKinney played Katherine Plummer. Fontenot’s performance was compelling and witty – hilariously mimicking Jack Kelly’s accent for a jab or two.

Her solo in “Watch What Happens” was one of many highlights from the production. She pointed to her experience in choir as her musical foundation.

A vigorous supporting cast helped capture the hustle and bustle of New York’s Gilded Age, the play’s setting. The dynamic stage had as much energy downstage as it did upstage. The choreography was nearly seamless in many sections.

Andrew Wulbern’s interpretation of Race Higgins brought swagger exhibited from every long draw of the prop cigar. Leland Locke took special consideration in portraying the disabled Crutchie, especially during skirmishing segments. During one dance routine, Ansley Engle as Specs had an unbelievable toe touch right up to the edge of the stage.

Also making an appearance were several previous “Clay Today” issues used as props – incredibly when they were ripped up and thrown into the crowd!

“Newsies” captures the nation’s ambivalent relationships with journalism and labor movements. The political sentiments are as relevant now as the musical’s Broadway premiere in 2012, the film premiere in 1992, or the subject matter itself in 1899.

The widely covered Writers Guild of America strike ended in a ratified contract on Oct. 9. The United Auto Workers strike, attended by both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, is ongoing.

“The play is still politically relevant because people who should have a say typically don’t have one,” said Williams.

“Everyone wants to be acknowledged. Everyone should have a voice,” said Fontenot.