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NewArts Students Seize The Day Delivering 'Newsies' To New Venue



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On a recent afternoon visit to Newtown Congregational Church and its ground floor production offices for NewArts' summer production of Disney's Newsies, the exuberance of its many dancers could literally be felt through the floor as they ran through choreography in the Great Room above.

Working under the practiced eye of Chaz Wolcott, who appeared in the Broadway tour of Newsies as well as the Netflix version of the production in the role of Buttons, dozens of dancers moving through their paces more closely resembled an actual Broadway company versus a local youth community production.

But this has been the standard with NewArts, whose Producing Artistic Director Michael Unger, along with dozens of Broadway and professional support personnel who joined him over the previous five summers (and two winters), continues striving to bring "as close to Broadway" caliber theater to the region as possible.

And every summer from the company's debut of Seussical The Musical in 2013, NewArts has delivered the goods.

This summer, NewArts will be delivering the papers as they take on the ambitious production of the Tony Award-winning Broadway phenomenon, which is running August 3-12 in the theater at Masuk High School, 1014 Monroe Turnpike (Route 111) in Monroe.

"This show more than any other is focusing on dance," Mr Unger told The Newtown Bee during that July 11 visit. "If you thought last summer's production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat had a lot of dancing, Newsies Joseph by a lot.surpasses 

And a somewhat reduced rehearsal schedule also makes staging this year's show a little more challenging."

While previous NewArts productions typically saw a lot of participants returning year after year, Mr Unger said Newsies features the largest number of new participants since the program originated.

Heavy Hitters Helping

The musical is based on the historical newsboy strike of 1899 that shook the ivory towers of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. The history lesson leaps onto the stage with soul-stirring music, amazing heart, and stunning choreography.

The local production features more than 120 area youth onstage, backstage, and in the orchestra.

"The original cast only had 14 members, but each of our NewArts productions will have around 90 kids on stage over the course of the show," Mr Unger said. "And the show has double cast about 20 roles to involve more children in the program."

Newsies features a Tony Award-winning score by Alan Menken (Little Mermaid, Little Shop of Horrors, Sister Act) and Jack Feldman, and a book by Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein (Kinky Boots). Featuring the now classic songs "Carrying the Banner," "Seize the Day" and "Santa Fe," Newsies promises nonstop thrills and a timeless message, perfect for the whole family and every audience.

"I think the production is unbelievably timely given the recent Parkland tragedy," Mr Unger said. "Newsies is about kids making a real difference. In 1899, it was kids going up against Hearst and Pulitzer, and today, we see high school aged kids traveling around the country encouraging voter registration so more young people can support efforts to help protect young people in the future."

The director said Mr Menkin has been directly involved in the NewArts production as well, approving a few subtle changes to his original score to make some of the language more appropriate for the young participants.

This production also features choreography adapted from Tony Award-winner Christopher Gattelli's Broadway production.

"It really helps to have a choreographer who knows the show, and we're doing Chris' choreography," Mr Unger said of the award-winning dance leader, whose work was also seen in the Broadway productions of Spongebob Squarepants and the most recent revival of My Fair Lady. "And our production of Newsies will be the only one in the world with him being involved. He will be staffing as well as bringing some of the original cast members in to work with our kids."

One of Mr Gatelli's challenges is adapting his original work for the dozens and dozens of NewArts actors who are participating.

"The original Broadway cast only had 12 dancers, and we have around 107," Mr Unger said.

Performances will take place on Fridays, August 3 and 10, at 7 pm; Saturdays, August 4 and 11, at 2 and 7 pm; Sundays, August 5 and 12, at 2 pm.

The ARC Component

All NewArts productions take cast members on a journey beyond the shows themselves. Interwoven within the rehearsal schedule is a custom-built character development curriculum designed by volunteers from the Yale School of Management and the University of Pennsylvania Masters of Applied Positive Psychology department, referred to as ARC (Aspire, Reach, Confidence).

This challenging character development curriculum equips the cast and technical crew members with essential life skills such as grit, resilience, and post-traumatic growth, which extend well beyond the stage into everyday life to help these young artists flourish as individuals and members of their community.

"Even all of our technical crew members are involved in the ARC component," Mr Unger said. "It really builds a sense of ensemble, trust, and friendship - everything you need for good theater and life as well."

The NewArts experience is unique from any other performing arts program, according to Michael Baroody, MD, founder of The 12.14 Foundation, from which NewArts sprang.

Whether performing onstage or helping behind the scenes, the NewArts mastery experience, in combination with the 12.14 Foundation's flagship ARC curriculum, guides students through the pathways of self-efficacy, self-regulation and self-awareness to improve students' overall well being, Dr Baroody explained.

The 12.14 Foundation was formed in 2013 in Newtown by Dr Baroody, a local parent with a mission to equip students with life tools to flourish in a challenging world through a custom-designed character development curriculum enhanced by a mastery experience in the performing arts.

As Executive Producer of NewArts, Dr Baroody makes time to lead the foundation's empowering ARC sessions twice a week, Mr Unger said.

Belying his youthful looks and demeanor, Mr Unger brings an impressive resume to bear on behalf of all the local youths he has directed and guided through the technical development of NewArts productions.

Since 2013, he has directed ten large-scale musicals for the 12.14 Foundation's NewArts program. He is excited, he said, to be staging Newsies in a brand new environment at Masuk High School, which offers a number of technical advantages never available to NewArts before.

"We've got a full fly space [from which to raise and lower stage height set pieces], a real orchestra pit for the first time ever, and plenty of offstage shop and storage space," Mr Unger said. "The folks at Masuk have been so accommodating and generous, and they are very excited to have some of their kids and staff working with professionals."

For more information regarding The 12.14 Foundation programs, how to support the longevity of programs through donations, and to purchase tickets for Newsies, visit newarts.org.

The cast of the NewArts summer production of 'Newsies,' above, runs through a dance number July 11 in the Great Room at Newtown Congregational Church. The local cast is learning choreography adapted from Tony Award-winner Christopher Gattelli's production on Broadway; Mr Gattelli is planning to conduct a session or two with the cast before opening night on August 3. (Bee Photos, Bobowick)
Actor, director and choreographer Chaz Wolcott, left, and NewArts Producing Artistic Director Michael Unger chat during a July 11 rehearsal of 'Newsies.' Mr Wolcott was in Newtown that day assisting in teaching choreography to the NewArts cast. He performed in the Broadway tour of the Disney musical as well as playing the role of Buttons in the Netflix film made of the Broadway production. He also appeared on "So You Think You Can Dance" in 2017.
NewArts 'Newsies' dancers, from left, Nicole Kolitsas, Sophia Soriano, Reese Wheat, Ava Baroody, Sophia Baroody, and Rebecca Markowsky go through their moves during a July 11 rehearsal at Newtown Congregational Church.
Alex Goldstein participates in an ARC classroom activity during downtime from rehearsing with the NewArts summer cast of Newsies. The production will be staged August 3-12 in the theater at Masuk High School in Monroe.
From left are Michaela Bonacci, Maria Goldstein, and Becky Romano, who were painting props on July 11, in one of the production offices temporarily houses at Newtown Congregational Church, to be used in the NewArts summer production of 'Newsies.'
Chaz Wolcott works with the NewArts cast of 'Newsies' July 11 in the Great Room at the Newtown Congregational Church.
This summer, NewArts will be delivering the papers as they take on the ambitious Tony Award-winning Broadway phenomenon 'Newsies,' which is running August 3-12 in the theater at Masuk High School, 1014 Monroe Turnpike (Route 111) in Monroe. For information and to purchase tickets, visit newarts.org.
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