Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Watch What Happens when you Seize the Day - talking with the leads and director of Hale Centre Theatre's NEWSIES

Kade Bailey and Kaitlyn Russell
photo by Taia Joy Flake
by Julia Bashaw

The sound of tapping, the scrape of dance shoes gliding across the floor, and the sights of pirouettes, cartwheels, and jumps filled the Hale rehearsal space in Downtown Gilbert. This cast of 23 is gearing up for the production of Newsies. Derived from a cult classic movie into a jaw-dropping musical in 2011.

“It is based on a true story, the news-boys strike of 1899,” said Cambrian James, the director and choreographer of this production. “It is basically the little guy fighting the big guy. It is a David and Goliath story.”

The storyline follows Jack Kelly and a group of mostly homeless or orphaned young boys who are newsboys, or Newsies. They make a living by buying stacks of newspapers and selling them to the public. Problems arise when the publisher of the New York World newspaper, Joseph Pulitzer, raises the cost of newspapers to the newsies as a way to boost his own profits. A rebellion begins with Jack leading the charge.

“This has been a dream role of mine for a while,” smiled Kade Bailey, making his first time appearing at Hale in the role of Jack Kelly. “As soon as I heard about these Hale auditions I was like 'yeah, let’s do it.' Jack is just such a cool character, I would describe him as a perseverent leader. He takes on the role of a leader within this group of boys because of his natural tenacity and charisma. He bites off more than he can chew with this strike. He is only 17 years old and you kinda only see those moments when he has all of this on his plate, you realize 'oh my gosh he is only a kid.' ”

The cast of Newsies is almost entirely made up of male roles. There are only 5 women in this Hale production. The initial thought would be that this was a difficult show to cast, however, the director Cambrian James found it easier than expected.

“The casting wasn’t actually that hard!” James stated. “There were a bunch of great male actors who auditioned. I didn't have to make the choreography any easier at all, there are 8 guys in the newsie core that are ballet dancers. They are amazing. The leaps and jumps and the turns that they do, plus they are all tappers. They tap like fiends.”

And they really do tap like fiends, in rehearsal warm-ups that I witnessed not a single actor was still. In the musical, as the strike begins a reporter named Katherine Plumber decides to write a story about what the newsboys are trying to accomplish. Her character ends up being Jack Kelly’s love interest. She is being performed by Kaitlyn Russell, also, like Kade Bailey, new to the Hale Centre Theatre.

“I think Katherine is wicked smart,” Russell stated. “Really emotional intelligent and I would say stubborn and ambitious. I saw Newsies a while ago at the Phoenix Theatre Company. I left the theatre and I was like, 'gosh that is a strong woman and we need strong women.' Literally the next day Hale posted their announcement for auditions and it was a year out. I said I was going to go to that audition. I just went because I was so inspired.”

Rehearsals have begun, the blocking has been set, and the dancing has commenced. Cambrian James has been working hard to make this production a memorable experience for both the cast members and audiences. The biggest obstacles he has run into is dancing in the theatre-in-the-round space and the development of the props. All within six weeks and only 3-4 hours of rehearsal a day.

“The challenge with this was,” James began. “everyone doing a leap just takes up the entire stage. I have 8 to 12 characters at one time all dancing big. And I just said 'squeeze in, let's fit everyone on the stage, let's go.' And they are doing it. Set and prop wise it is very heavy. There are so many different newspapers that we need. Different headlines and different stacks. The Newsies will say I’ll take 100 papers but we can’t actually give a 100 because that would be a gigantic stack. So we have to figure out what 100 papers is and looks like.”

Some of the challenges the cast has had to face every day is keeping themselves healthy and remembering what the purpose behind this production is. The leads elaborated on what has been running through their heads each time they come to rehearsal.

“This is the biggest role I have taken on,” Bailey admitted. “So getting into the habit of getting so many songs into my voice and all the dialogue and just knowing how to take care of myself to be able to show up every day to do it well. It is such a privilege to be able to do a role like this but you really have to focus.”

“It is really fun to get caught up in these big dance numbers but you have to remember they are striking and that was a very serious thing,” explained Russell. “Playing Katherine I have to remember there is a goal here, I am writing an article. I can get caught up in the fun but there definitely is a story to be told. That story is what moves people.”

By being in this story, Russell and Bailey have been able to uncover details about their characters that they admire. Relating to and becoming these people who had very different lives, walking their journey with them as they evolve to their circumstances.

“The hardest thing is remembering that she is a woman in 1899,” Russell stated. “Because the parts of me that identify with Katherine can express themselves differently today then she could. I would say that I am headstrong but in very different ways than she was able to be. So there are some moments in the show where I have to reconcile her stubbornness and ambition with the fact that she’s surrounded by a bunch of men who at the time held all the power. I was drawn to this show because of who she is. It has been 100 years and we (women) have come a long way.”

“Some of the characteristics I admire from Jack,” began Bailey. “His ability to just really take control of a crowd. He is a really good salesman he knows how to talk to all these different kinds of people. He is emotionally young and that is where you see the young side of him because with Katherine you see that he is just a kid. He doesn’t know how to deal with these feelings that he has. The arch that he goes through, he just learns so much about himself. Jack as the leader and Jack as the lover, these two different sides of him that end up intersecting but he has a hard time intertwining those two paths. It's fun to see how he ends up at the end of the show.”

the cast of Newsies as the Hale rehearsal studio
photo by Julia Bashaw
“They are all great,” James smiled as he admired his cast. “They are exhausted and tired but they still do it because they love it. They all want to be here, keep going, and work harder which that alone will make it an amazing show.”

When asked what they hope audiences will take away after seeing these performances, the leads elaborated into what they themselves felt after seeing it. They hope to pass on some of the same emotions and realizations.

“This show is the most beautiful reminder to me that theatre is about relationships,” Russell smiled. “There is so much of us and we are working together, it really is a bonding experience. Relationships really are the backbone of everything we do in theatre, that is what people like to watch. When I saw Newsies for the first time I left feeling like I could anything. I was very inspired because it reminds you that if you work hard you can absolutely accomplish your dreams no matter how impossible that might seem. I think that’s so important for everyone individually to be reminded of daily. A lot of time we focus on the big picture; what are the people above us doing, what are the people with more power doing? But each of us can do something really important especially together if we believe in ourselves and each other. So walking out of this show and being able to apply that to their own lives whatever that means for them, I think that’s the point.

“I agree, at the end of the day it is a musical about the importance of community,” Bailey elaborated. “And what a group of individuals can accomplish if they all band together. Hopefully, people leave feeling inspired by that very fact and leave with a smile on their face.”

Inspiration is the goal of Newsies, not to just entertain but to bring to light the struggles of our history. This is based on the true story of the uprising of the oppressed fighting back against the privileged. Cambrian James has strong opinions surrounding that situation and what he wants audiences to remember when they leave the theatre.

“It is about taking advantage of today and seizing the day,” James began. “Live in the present, fight for yourself, and don’t let people walk over you just because they can. We have to fight for the little person because they don’t have anyone. It’s relevant to today that these big corporations are taking advantage of the poor and the needy. Instead of helping them and boosting them to the middle class, everything is going to the upper class. One day if it keeps up there is going to be a rebellion and it is not going to be pretty. I hate that is still applies today but it is, this was 1899 and now it is 2019. I want audiences to walk away with the awareness that this is still going on.”

Don’t miss Hale Theatre’s production of Newsies from May 16th-June 29th. The songs are sure to be stuck in your head and the message stuck in your heart.

CLICK HERE for more information on this production

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