It’s both a history lesson and an acting class for the young people bringing “Newsies Jr.” to the stage at the old Lewiston High School auditorium, starting Friday, July 15.
Students in the Lewiston Civic Theatre’s Acting Out summer program portray the flat-cap-wearing “newsies” who fought against publishing powerhouse Joseph Pulitzer’s price increases in late-1800s New York in the Tony-winning Disney musical.
Kids putting on a show about their peers from the past taking a stand strikes a note director Amy Baker Stout said really resonates.
“What I feel is amazing is the message of the story that is about these children of 1899, that are the same age as our kids, (being) major changemakers, that they saw that there was injustice and cruelty and unfair treatment, and they stood up for themselves,” Stout said during a recent visit to the Lewiston Tribune, where several students explored the newspaper’s museum. “So what better message can we be teaching our kids today, (than) that they can make big changes?”
The 60-minute play, designed for young performers, includes 62 students juggling roles between two casts. The “Queens” cast performs July 15, 17 and 23, and the “Brooklyn” cast performs July 16, 22 and 24.
“The double casting provides more opportunities for these young actors to stretch their abilities and gain more challenging stage experience,” Stout explained in a recent Lewiston Civic Theatre news release.
Paul Lane, 14, and his brother Frank, 15, alternate as newsboy Jack Kelly, who leads his peers in the strike.
“Sometimes it’s a struggle,” Paul said. “I’m backstage and I want to sing the one part, and I’m like ‘Oh wait, it’s Frank’s turn.’ ”
Paul started his civic theater career when he was just 5 years old, in “Les Miserables,” but “Newsies Jr.” marks his debut in a lead role.
“This is my first time learning a ton of lines and singing very difficult songs,” he said, noting he’s been leaning on his brother for guidance. “It has been really fun.”
The performances are the culmination of the Acting Out summer program for children and teens 8-17 years old. Four six-week classes also are offered during the school year.
Seeing the young cast learn the show in what will be a total of 15 rehearsals has been eye-opening for the adults leading the program, Stout said.
“They work hard all day, and they get it done,” she said. “They’re capable of so much more than maybe we ever give them credit for.”
That lesson hasn’t been lost on the students either.
“It takes a lot,” Paul Lane said. “I’m very, I wouldn’t say surprised, but impressed by everyone being able to learn this in such a short amount of time. For all the little kids to be able to learn all this is very impressive.”
And there were lessons for the students in the stories of the children they portray in the show.
“I’ve been putting up research that they can read about, that these were kids that were 8 years old, out in the streets, working, selling papers to help feed their families, and they fought for themselves — and it’s really amazing,” Stout said. “And I just applaud them all for rising to the task and exceeding their own expectations. The leadership skills, the teamwork, the self-confidence that this all fosters are life skills that go way beyond the stage.”
Most students enrolled in the program to act, but about half a dozen chose to focus on stagecraft.
“So they’re also learning each day about lights and about sound, and helping me make props, and they’re painting the sets and they’re moving the scenery,” Stout said. “And so they’re all really invested in every element of what it takes to put on a production, especially for a community theater.”
Seeing kids’ interest in theater blossom into dedication is heartening, she said.
“My hope is to grow this community, so that I’m creating the Lewiston Civic Theatre of the future.”
Stone (she/her) can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If You Go
What: “Newsies Jr.”
When: 7 p.m. July 15-16, 22-23 and 2 p.m. July 17 and 24.
Where: Old Lewiston High School on Normal Hill, 1114 Ninth Ave.
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 seniors, veterans, students, children; lctheatre.org or (208) 746-3401.
Of note: A different cast configuration performs, depending on the day, giving the students in the program a broader experience.