Union Middle students ‘Stop the World’ with ‘Newsies, Jr.’ performancesNov 01, 2022 08:06PM ● By Julie Slama
By Julie Slama | [email protected]
“Newsies Stop the World,” is front page news when a reporter writes how newsboys bring light to the poor working conditions of not only themselves, but of all children in labor.
The clever headline also plays off the fact the newsies are striking in turn-of-the-century New York City to rally together in opposition to unfair work conditions by powerful New York World newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer.
More than 130 students are making headlines at Union Middle School as they are a part of the newly released “Disney’s Newsies, Jr.,” a 70-minute version of the 2012 Broadway musical and movie.
The student-actors will perform the show at 7 p.m., Nov. 30-Dec. 3, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday on the school’s stage, 615 E. 8000 South. Tickets are $3 and are available at the door or at umspa.yapsody.com.
“We like that it is a really large cast, and we can include as many kids as possible,” said drama teacher Brooke Grant, who is codirecting the show with music teacher David Christensen and dance teacher Roxanne Paulsen. “There are more lead newsies in the junior version; they’ve added some parts so there are more dedicated female roles.”
Students auditioned in August.
“We have a really strong group of actors this year,” Grant said. “Last year, we had a lot of good seventh-graders in ‘Spamalot’ so they were prepped and ready and moved into the lead roles this year.”
She said the same thing is true this year, so Grant expects next year’s production to have strong leaders as well.
Paulsen added that “double-casting allows us to do that, to train our students.”
Union first double-casted roles in 2019 with their production of “The Addams Family.”
Grant said the “Newsies, Jr.” cast is one of the largest casts ever in the school history, and the last time students will perform a musical on the current stage as a new school building is being constructed and upon completion, the school built in 1968 will be demolished.
The new auditorium will seat about 650 patrons, about half the size of the current theater’s 1,200 seats, Grant said, so with the musical being “heavy” on dance, the larger stage works well.
“The students are being pushed out of their comfort zones as far as movement goes. It’s iconic choreography, so it’s fun to draw kids into seeing it and recreating it our own way,” Paulsen said. “We’ll do it at the students’ level, but there are iconic moments and motifs we put in.”
Some students have tap experience from previous shows or from studio lessons while others are learning it for the first time for “The King of New York” number.
“We’ll highlight those with experience and the others will join them in performing tap steps,” she said.
Joining them in instruction is social studies teacher Taylor Brooks, who has acting, music and dance experience, and can help teach the thespians.
In addition to those on stage, there are two student stage managers and a 25-student stage crew helping with props and signs in addition to sound and lights. Grant said that the Art 3 class is painting backdrops for shows and parents volunteer with costumes and props.
“It’s fun for our community to be a part of this. We don’t have sports teams other than intramurals here, so this is the big thing, the draw that pulls all our students together,” Grant said. “When students are in the cast and crew, even if they’re in the ensemble, they’re connecting and being part of the community and tradition of being in a Union musical.”
“It takes all our community to pull it off,” Paulsen said.
Grant said there will be a surprise—even to the student-actors—appearance in the show. There also may be an opportunity to involve Union alumni, although Grant isn’t ready to reveal those plans.
She said it has been a gratifying experience for both the students and herself.
“It’s a fun musical for students to be playing kids the same age and there’s not a ton of shows like that. They are filling the roles very naturally, and they’re very much connect to their roles, to the David and Goliath aspect of the show. It’s very empowering and uplifting. It’s important that they feel the story they’re telling is helping them grow as people,” Grant said. “I’ve enjoyed seeing them succeed. It’s a hard show and it’s known for its dancing, and they have to be singing and acting at the same time. It’s been fun seeing them overcome the challenges to succeed.”