(Posted May 4, 2021)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
London High School’s theater department is wading into new waters by streaming its spring musical online.
It’s part of a combination approach to bringing this year’s show, “Newsies,” to audiences while navigating pandemic safety protocols.
First, the cast and crew are performing four live shows for friends and family, May 6-9.
“We are limited to 25 percent capacity in the auditorium,” said Scott Blanton, director, referring to pandemic restrictions on crowd size. “Students were allowed four tickets per performance which pretty much sells us out.”
With the live shows closed to the general public, the theater department is offering a streamed video recording of the show nightly May 14-23. Tickets are $20 per stream and can be purchased at www.showtix4u.com/event-details/52320 starting May 10. Showtime is 6:30 p.m. each night.
Blanton said he chose “Newsies,” in part, because it is one of the few shows that permits streaming. It also comes with recorded music tracks, eliminating the need for a live orchestra and allowing students to practice on their own while listening to the recordings.
Aside from the practical reasons for choosing “Newsies,” Blanton said it’s a terrific show with an inspirational message.
“It’s an exciting musical. It’s a great one for high schools to do because there are youths in it, and it’s about learning to stand up for themselves,” he said.
Set in New York City, “Newsies” is based on true events surrounding the newsboys’ strike of 1899. At the time, newspaper publishers relied on youths to sell papers on the streets. The newsboys purchased the papers at 50 cents per 100 then sold them for 1 cent each for a profit of a half-cent per paper.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War drove up newspaper sales, and several publishers upped the cost of a newsboy’s bundle to 60 cents per 100. The increased sales offset the increased price. After the war, sales decreased and many papers returned to the 50-cent price. The exceptions were Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World” and William Randolph Hearst’s “New York Journal.” A group of newsboys declared a strike in July 1899 that lasted two weeks.
The story inspired both a musical film and a Broadway stage production with a Tony award-winning musical score.
Blanton said his cast of 26 has embraced the story, music and choreography. Among those playing lead roles are senior Luke Peart as Jack Kelly, a rough street kid who faces down Pulitzer in his office and leads his fellow newsboys in carrying out the strike.
“Luke has really made the most of his senior year in playing this role,” Blanton said.
Senior Alicia Skinner plays Katherine Plummer, Jack’s love interest and something of a rarity for the times in which the show is set–a female news reporter. Blanton praised Skinner for the work she has done with the role and for being “very musical.”
Junior Ben Treynor plays Davey, Jack’s sidekick, who is timid at first but then becomes more courageous.
“Ben is going a great job pulling off the transformation,” Blanton said.
Senior Noah Brown won the role of Pulitzer, the villain of the story.
“Noah has been a really solid performer these last couple of years,” Blanton said.
A fun sidenote: High school social studies teacher Tim Coudret makes a cameo appearance as Gov. Teddy Roosevelt.
Joining Blanton in directorial duties are Jessica Dunham as music director, Jeff Gates as assistant production manager, and Dr. Danielle Fredette as the team’s new choreographer. Dunham and Gates have assisted with London’s stage productions for years. Fredette teaches engineering at Cedarville University.
Blanton is thankful for his team, as well as for the support of the community and school leaders. With the changes brought on by the pandemic, the theater department has had to pivot, finding new ways to bring shows to audiences.
“From the beginning, the school district has been supportive of the musical and the theater department as a whole, including the fall play. They’ve come through with funding support and moral support,” Blanton said.