When struggling newsboys learn that their cost of doing business is about to go up, but not their pay, they decide to challenge adult authority, take their future into their own hands and put it all on the line in Disney’s “Newsies,” a musical based on the newsboys’ strike of July 1899.
New York City newsboys revolted against a price increase from the publishers of The Evening World and New York Evening Journal. According to Wikipedia, many publishers had raised their cost from 50 cents per hundred papers to 60 cents in 1898, and sales increased during the Spanish-American War, but they cut the price back to 50 cents after the war, except for The Evening World and New York Evening Journal.
The young hawkers sold their papers for a penny and received a half-cent in profit. Their demand was that the price be rolled back to 50 cents per hundred. Even at that rate, making a living was very difficult, with some boys living on the streets and others trying to support families in the aftermath of an economic recession.
At the Manatee Performing Arts Center’s Stone Hall, the high-spirited performers went through their paces under the direction of director Rick Kerby, producing artistic director of the Manatee Players.
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Kerby has been with the Players for 15 seasons and has been involved with “so many” productions, he said. “Newsies” is different from the traditional Broadway fare that Manatee Players’ patrons are accustomed to, and he said that’s a good thing.
“I like doing new things that our community hasn’t seen a thousand times already,” Kerby said. “This was just released. Actually, we got an option to do it earlier than most. And I thought it was a good fit. We have such talented younger actors in this area, and I thought this would be a good showcase for them.”
Savannah Sinclair, 20, plays young reporter Katherine Plumber, whose father is Joseph Pulitzer. She is covering cabaret under her pen name, and takes up the newsboys’ cause because she wants to be seen as a serious journalist “in the new century.”
Sinclair said what happens in the musical is relevant today, and young people are becoming more active in causes that affect them, especially after the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“There’s a part in my song where I sing, ‘Nothing happens if you just give in, it can’t be any worse than how it’s been,’” she said. “That part always gets to me. I’m singing about today and what’s going on.”
Sinclair is down here for the summer, where she has been performing since she was 5 years old. Her mother teaches at Booker High School in Sarasota, and has her own performing troupe. In fact, several of the members of that group are in the cast of “Newsies.”
Sinclair’s last role was as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid,” and she’ll be going back to the Manhattan School of Music for her junior year in the fall.
Javishsa Strong, 27, a special needs teacher at McKay Academy in Bradenton, is performing in her fourth show at the Manatee Players.
She plays Medda Larkin, a sympathetic theater owner who provides the boys with a place to hide when they’re running from authority. Larkin also lets Jack Kelly, the main character and leader of the newsboys, (played by Austin Gresham) do some painting work for her.
“She takes them into her theater and she makes them feel safe,” Strong said, especially Jack. “She’s kind of like that safe haven for the kids.”
Strong said she was encouraged to audition for musicals by a friend who works at the theater. “It was something I always thought about doing, but never had the courage,” she said. “He came with me to the audition and as soon as I walked in I said, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ He was like, ‘No, you’re going to do it.’ So I auditioned and I got the role I auditioned for.”
Strong also sees the activism that causes young people to stand up when they’re under attack, and it’s relevant to today. “They take that chance to kind of change the world around them,” she said. “And to stand up for themselves.”
“It takes a lot of courage to stand up and take a stand against something that you know is not right,” she added.
Alexander Zickafoose, 23, plays Crutchie, a physically disabled newsboy who hobbles around on stage, and whose crutch has a few other uses as well. He’s a good friend of Jack Kelly.
“He is basically the voice of positivity amongst all the newsies,” Zickafoose said. “He acts as a sort of mascot for them.”
“In a way, he represents all the pain and struggle of the newsies, but he has that really positive attitude that they always have.”
He’s lived in the area all his life, and started doing shows after he graduated from high school, and throughout college, including the Manatee Players.
Zickafoose, a music teacher at Booker High School, said he’s been in “quite a few” shows, including “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” in which he played Quasimodo, and “Peter and the Starcatcher” and “Les Miserables.”
Kerby, the director, said he thinks the audience will enjoy the musical. “It’s kind of impossible not to fall in love with these kids because they’re so dang talented,” he said. “And it’s traditional musical theater. We’re not pushing any downgrades or any controversial material. It’s Disney, so it’s very family friendly and I think all ages are going to love it.
“It’s definitely a family show.”
Most people who attend Broadway musicals are of the older generation, but Sinclair says there’s enough in “Newsies” to appeal to them and also families with children.
“I thing everyone can relate to the story,” Sinclair said. “It’s written well enough that everyone’s rooting for those kids.”
The strike ended with a compromise. While the cost per hundred papers would remain at 60 cents, the companies would buy back unsold papers so boys wouldn’t have to sell late into the night to avoid a loss, Wikipedia reported. The boys accepted this, the strike ended the next day and the union was disbanded.
If you go
Where: Manatee Performing Arts Center, Stone Hall, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton
When: Aug. 9-26; 2 p.m. matinees on Aug. 12, 19 and 26
Tickets: $27 to $40; student and teacher discounts available by phone and in person.
Box office: Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Phone: Call 941-748-5875