Southern Utah Community Theater Watch: an In-depth look at Hurricane Theatrical’s Production of Newsies
Utah residents are OBSESSED with Newsies.
Ever since the classic Disney movie (with Christian Bale wishing there was a better way to alter vocals in 1992), folks around the world were praying, nay, BEGGING for a stage version of Newsies.
Then when it was made into a Broadway musical in 2012, everyone in Utah was all like, “COME HERE, DANG IT.”
I should know, I was one of those people.
I’ll be honest though, I wasn’t exactly sure why everyone was salivating at the thought of Newsies making its way to Southern Utah.
That is until I saw Hurricane Theatrical’s production of Newsies.
Yes, I’m aware that The Stage Door and Tuacahn have both put on their own version of the production in recent years, but I never got the chance to see them. That’s why this is my first exposure to a Southern Utah version of Newsies.
As for the reason so many people are obsessed with Newsies? You’ll just have to read on to find out.
Newsies is based off the real Newsboys’ Strike of 1899.
The story is that Joseph Pulitzer, portrayed in this production by John Blasko, wasn’t making enough of a profit from his New York based newspaper "The World".
So what does he do? Why, increase the buying price for newsies of course! Pulitzer increases the price from 50 cents for every 100 papers to 60 cents for over 100 papers.
Newsies are the boys and girls who buy the papers from the production line, and then do everything they can to sell the papers to the good folks of New York City, or in the case of our protagonist, Manhattan.
Our protagonist is Jack Kelly, portrayed by James David, a newsie, rooftop enthusiast, and closet painter (he doesn’t paint closets, he just doesn’t like people knowing that he can draw).
Jack is sort of known as the leader of the newsies of Manhattan, and you could say he doesn’t take well to the price hike.
Random fact: Jack Kelly is based off the real leader of the Newsboys’ Strike. He went by the name Kid Blink, and he wore an eyepatch. So here’s the real question that needs to be asked. WHERE’S MY PIRATE JACK?…oh wait.
Jack creates a union with the rest of the Manhattan newsies along with a new…um…newsie named Davey, portrayed by Caleb Christensen. Jack and Davey are seen as the leaders of the strike.
This is when a go-getting reporter by the name of Lois Lane…I mean Katherine Plumber, portrayed by McKenzie Harts, decides to take the initiative and report on the story of the newsies strike to the rest of New York when no one else will give them a voice.
Will the newsies be able to win the fight for fair wages? Will Pulitzer have his way despite the harm it will cause? WILL SOMEONE GIVE JACK AN EYEPATCH?
Okay, so probably nothing will happen with that last part, but you’ll need to watch to find out.
How’s the Show?
Remember when I said I’d found the reason why so many people are obsessed with Newsies?
Well, you’ve waited long enough.
It’s the energy. There is a certain energy that has to be conveyed throughout the production, which can be very difficult depending on the difficulty of the choreography.
Choreography plays such a major part in any production of Newsies, because it’s nothing but jazz, ballet, and tap dancing throughout the entire show.
Even the slower moments need to have that energy, like with the main ballad of the show, “Santa Fe,” which also opens the show and closes out the first act.
What does that energy feel like? Well it’s powerful, makes you want to get on your feet, and almost rebellious in nature (fitting for the source material).
That energy is here IN SPADES. The cast of Hurricane Theatrical’s production of Newsies are powerful, bold, and charming.
They know how to pull at your heartstrings as well, like James David’s performance as Jack Kelly.
James is charismatic, funny, and purposeful in his execution as Jack. A lot of times in community theater, there may have to be some compromises to handle the difficult material.
James is not a compromise. He does everything you’d want Jack Kelly to do in a show while also adding his own spin to the character as well.
As for the rest of the newsies, I must give as much credit as I can to their work and dedication to creating that newsies flare.
So, let’s give them some credit…*breathes in sharply*….
Crutchie, portrayed by Reed Laudie, Albert/Tommy Boy, portrayed by Day Carpenter, Buttons, portrayed by Elizabeth Riddle, Elmer, portrayed by Bethany Byrd, Finch, portrayed by Anna Gundestrup, Henry, portrayed by Lilly Armour, Race/Jo Jo, portrayed by Austin Jackson (stop smoking, it’s bad for you), Romeo, portrayed by Cole Andra, and Specs, portrayed by Tyler Quincy, are all incredibly talented and should be commended for every effort they’ve put into this show as the backbone of why everyone loves Newsies.
If they weren’t here, along with the rest of ensemble, this show wouldn’t work. They are the yeast that allows this bread to rise.
Caleb Christensen as Davey also needs to be praised. He starts off as a cautious and almost weary young man who’s just trying to feed his little brother, but by the end, he’s confident and strategic.
As for that little brother, his name is Les, portrayed by Capri Johnson, and she does a wonderful job of being the sassy little kid, and is charming from start to finish while giving the extra bit of heart this kind of show needs.
John Blasko as Pulitzer, while not in a lot of the show until the second act, does what he has to get this kind of role right. Pulitzer’s character is interesting because he seems like a scumbag, but at the end of the show, you kind of see where he’s coming from. Not enough to root for the guy, but just enough to understand him.
McKenzie Harts as Katherine Plumber is an absolute killer in this production. She has the pipes to give a wonderful rendition of “Watch What Happens,” and this is coming from a guy who was sick of this song from how many theater students were singing it when the musical premiered in 2012.
McKenzie made me like that song again, and that’s a compliment that I will never give to anyone singing “Let It Go” from Frozen.
Lastly, a bit of a technical preview.
The set design in this show is astounding. Hurricane Theatrical continues to lead the charge in unique and purposeful set design throughout Southern Utah’s community theater scene.
For those of you who know, Kyle Myrick, who directed and handled most of the technical aspects of the show, is my brother-in-law.
So if you’re thinking, “He’s only saying this because they’re family,” allow me to offer some “un-biased” viewpoints.
Just like any sibling, there are some things me and Kyle don’t see eye-to-eye on, but one thing I will never lie about is someone’s dedication.
Kyle made lemonade out of lemon rinds with Hurricane Theatrical, and it is shown in his production of Newsies. I highly encourage anyone to see the show to see what I mean, and then I would love for you to tell me otherwise.
That being said….I had a hard time hearing the dialogue at times. If you do see the show, consider sitting in front of the theater. I made the mistake of sitting near the back, and I think that’s why I had such a hard time.
Getting to Know the Cast
I had the chance to speak with James David (Jack Kelly), John Blasko (Pulitzer), and Ashley Stackhouse (Music Director and Ensemble) before the performance. Here’s some of what I learned about these dedicated cast members.
You wouldn’t even think it, but James has only been in 4 shows as an actor. His first role was when he portrayed Sebastian in the 2022 production of The Little Mermaid, also at Hurricane Theatrical.
Let me tell you, the audience was eating James up big time. I thought there was a serious drought in the theater because there were some girls in the audience who were THIRSTY.
To those who are vying for a healthy diet of James David, I have some bad news for you…he’s taken.
In fact, it’s because of his wife that he was able to get into theater in the first place.
When he’s not on stage, he works in music production, and has a background in Hip Hop.
John Blasko has quite the military background, as he was a Sgt. First Class and served in the U.S. Army Special Forces as a member of the Green Berets.
Meaning, he can hike the prices of newspapers while also finding 4 different ways to kill you if you try to strike….okay, so maybe not that last part….maybe.
John is an absolute teddy bear of a man in the best way possible. He always tries to be as supportive as possible to his fellow cast members.
John has been in multiple productions with Director Kyle Myrick, but it’s been a while since he’s set foot on the stage at Hurricane Theatrical.
Ashley Stackhouse is the choir teacher at Hurricane High School, and she’s also famous…to me anyway.
If you have the recorded version of The Forgotten Carols, which is a holiday show that’s famous here in Southern Utah, you’ll find her among the ensemble! On top of that, she had to do it in the middle of the pandemic…so she’s got some serious street cred in my book.
Ashley worked tirelessly to make sure the cast of Newsies had that powerful ensemble sound that one should expect in this show, and I believe she succeeded.
Hurricane Theatrical’s Newsies will play until September 9, and you can find tickets here.
Thanks for reading!
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