UTD’s theater produced and directed the “Newsies” Broadway Musical on campus from Nov. 1 to Nov. 5. Its brilliant acting and gorgeous visuals brought to life an inspiring story of workers taking on powerful corporations and winning despite the odds.
“Newsies” is set in New York City and follows Jack Kelly, a rebellious young newsboy that takes matters into his own hands when publishing giant Joseph Pulitzer raises newspaper prices. The musical follows how the newsboys, with the help of reporter Katherine Plumber, stand up for themselves and showcase the power of “the little man.”
For ATEC senior Bonnie Abbott, the stage manager for this year’s production, the themes within the musical are strikingly relevant today. The musical is based on the real-life Newsboys Strike of 1899, when the U.S.’s two most prominent publishers — Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst — agreed to keep the high price of newspaper bundles after the Spanish-American War and discontinued the practice of buying back newspapers. This had a disastrous impact on the Newsboys and caused them to stop selling newspapers and hold rallies to demand change.
“I think right now, we’re in a time where the workforce is changing and shifting,” Abbott said. “I think “Newsies” is topical just because it’s kids talking about how they don’t want to work for bad wages or bad work hours … but it’s definitely for … giving young people a voice and a place at the table.”
As stage manager, Abbott’s job includes practical notes like creating schedules and calling out cues but also emotional support for the team.
“I love it [stage management] because it happens in the shadows … And as much as the actors are talented and as much as the techs are talented, somebody has to coordinate all of that,” Abbott said. “It’s a lot of emotional work, too, because people will come up crying and they need to vent and all of that. And so being present for them … is just a word of encouragement for stage managers.”
ATEC senior Dakota Britvich played main character Jack Kelly. Britvich’s portrayal of an iconic character was partly inspired by his own experience as a queer individual, and how he saw Jack as queer-coded.
“[I used] the queer experience as a way to demonstrate hope through found family and the fight for rights … the fight for rights is something that’s very topical nowadays, the fight for trans rights, queer rights, abortion rights … The whole thing of “Newsies” is that … the children’s workers’ rights was the thing that kind of started all that off,” Britvich said.
Megan Lemonds, a visual and performing arts senior, played Katherine Plumber, one of the show’s leads. She watched the Broadway musical on Disney+ and pulled from her own personal experiences to create her character.
“She has several entrances on stage where she’s getting hit on by men, and it’s a little uncomfortable for her because she’s working … So I’ve dealt with catcalling and inappropriate stuff in school and workplaces, so I tried to pull some of my disgust,” Lemonds said.
The production had to be temporarily shut down due an outbreak of COVID-19 in the cast, with its original late October opening night being pushed forward to November Despite this, the cast worked to adapt. Micki Saba, the choreographer of the musical, attests to how the cast worked around this challenge.
“Everybody bounced back in the first dress rehearsal … the runs just kept getting better and better and better each night up until opening night,” said Saba.
Abbott believes that despite the stress, there are moments that make the hard work worth it for her.
“The moments where I see the trust that an actor gives me …they’ll tell me something or they’ll come to me and be like, I need help with this … Then, the moments where a call happens just perfectly,” Abbott said.
UTD’s theater draws students from all walks of life. Students who act or work in theater shows don’t need a specific major.
“We have a lot of students at UTD … that had either danced most of their lives or really been involved in theater, but chose something else as their major … and then they come to UTD and they find out, no, you don’t have to give that up, you can be a biology major or an engineering major and you can still dance, act, sing,” said Saba.