Newsies in the spotlight

Small Town Theatrics to tell their tale

THE NEWSBOYS’ OF New York City threw down their delivery bags and raised a fist against a hike in wholesale newspaper prices. The newsies formed a union on July 19, 1899 and the following day they went on strike, leaving no one to sell the The World or New York Journal. Taking inspiration from the strike that led to changes in child labor laws, Disney produced a motion pictured and followed with a stage production that was nominated for eight Tony Awards. This month, Small Town Theatrics will bring the story to life on stage as it presents “Newsies” at the Coal City Performing Arts Center July 26-29. Small Town’s newsies include: (kneeling, from left): Kilen Davidson, Caitlin Chrastka, Hailey Kasky and Brecken Johnson. Row two: AJ Rodriguez, Cody Rogers, Caleb Swick, Josh Lacy, Sophia Jakubowsk and Madison Holcomb. Row three: Stephen Byers, Riley Nevin, Kevin Soto, Preston Johnson, Gavyn Williams, Griffin Johnson, Trevor Shingler and Emma Kenney. Photo by Ann Gill
Ann Gill

     In July 1899, with dissent growing over a hike in the wholesale price of newspapers, the newsboys’ who peddled papes for  New York City’s two major new outlets threw down their delivery bags.
    The newsies rallied,  formed a union and set out to take on the two most powerful men in publishing—Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst.
    Word spread across the city of an impending strike and on July 20, one day after unionizing, the newsies took a stand and refused to sell Pulitzer’s New York World and the New York Journal published by Hearst.
    The newsboys’ strike lasted 13 days, coming to an end when the publishers reached a compromise with the newsies union.
    As the 119th anniversary of this historic strike approaches, a cast of 50 is set to tell the tale on the stage inside Coal City Performing Arts Center as Small Town Theatrics presents Disney’s “Newsies.”
    Although a work of fiction, the real life newsboys’ strike of 1899 served as inspiration for the stage production and the feature film that proceeded it.  
    “Newsies” previewed in 2011 and made its way to Broadway for a limited run in 2012. The show was such a hit with audiences it  played over 1,000 shows and earned eight Tony Award nominations taking the prize for Best Choreography and Best Original Score.
    Members of the Small Town cast will tell you the choreography and music in the show are outstanding.
    Small Town’s newsies have put in close to 100 hours of choreography rehearsals, not to mention hours around the piano perfecting vocals, and working scenes with director Jack Micetich, who founded the non-profit community theatre company nine years ago.
    The company was formed to provide individuals from small towns an opportunity to showcase their talent, while exposing them to the diversity of the performing arts.
    This year’s cast and crew is comprised of over 50 individuals from a dozen communities in Grundy, Will and Kendall counties.
    When Catitlin Chrastka auditioned for the show in May she was asked what led her to audition. She informed the creative team that its 2016 production was, “Broadway level,” and she simply wanted an opportunity to do a show with Small Town.
    Chrastka, who travels each day from Yorkville, is taking the stage as newsie, JoJo.
    In the show the newsies are led by Jack Kelly, a role assigned to Gavyn Williams, a soon-to-be senior at Coal City High School.
    Williams’ first time on stage was in his school’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” He has since taken the stage in “The Little Mermaid,” “Les Miserables,” and Small Town’s production of “Dogfight.”
    “It was the tech side of productions that got me hooked,” said Williams, who’s pitched in to help build sets for the show.
    What’s kept him coming back to the stage is the ability to see the progression of a show from start to finish, and the opportunity it provides an actor to step outside of themselves and assume a role much different from themselves.
    Landing the role of Jack Kelly was a dream come true  for Williams who reports “Newsies,” is one of his all time favorite shows.
    “I love “Newsies,” so I had to at least try out, because I knew I would regret it if I didn’t,” said Hannah Babyak, of Shorewood, who takes the stage as Katherine Plumber, an ambitious young reporter who supports the newsies despite her father, Joseph Pulitzer’s, dissent over the cause.
    This is Babyak’s first show with Small Town Theatrics and she said the experience has been more than she could have ever expected.
    “I had only heard great things about Small Town and how professional it is and how nice everyone is and it’s just beyond anything I imagined. My favorite part of doing the show is the people. Everyone is so nice and it’s easy to work in this environment, because you feel accepted and are allowed to make mistakes, recover from them and learn from it,” she said.
    From the beginning, it’s been Micetich’s goal to provide the cast, crew and audiences with a professional level production.
    “It is such a professional group, just as much as everyone I’ve worked with at college. The standard everyone is held to is fantastic,” said Caleb Swick, of Wilmington, who will appear as Crutchie.
    Kevin Soto knows what goes into a Small Town production. “Newsies” is his sixth show with the company and in this production he takes on the role of Henry, one of the New York newsies.
    “In this company, when it gets down to it, the actors, dancers and directors put in so many countless hours, especially with these higher caliber shows,” Soto said.
    Soto’s love for the stage has led him to do multiple summer productions over the last three years, but this could be his final show for a while.
    Next spring he graduates from the University of Illinois and will  move on to graduate school, so he plans to make the most of his time on stage putting together a professional show that will be appreciated by those who  spend a few hours in the theatre.
    Small Town Theatrics is one of the first theatre companies to secure the rights to  produce the show presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International.
    Micetich and his creative team are building sets and costumes, many of the items will be available for rental when the show closes.
    “Newsies” opens at 7 p.m.  Thursday, July 26 with shows at 7 p.m. on Friday, July 27, Saturday, July 28 at 2 and 7 p.m. and the final curtain goes up at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 29.
    Reserved seat tickets are $10 per person and can be purchased on-line at The box office will be open Thursday, July 19 and Friday, July 20 from 5-7 p.m. at the Coal City Performing Arts Center, 655 W. Division St. Remaining seats will be sold beginning one hour prior to each show.
    The cast, crew and creative team encourage the community to “Sezie the Day,” and join them in the theatre.     
    “Audiences can expect to see some off the charts choreography, amazing lighting design and great chemistry between everyone who takes the stage,” said Josh Lacy, who takes the stage for his sixth Small Town Show as newsie, Albert.